Oct 9, 2010

Movies: Let Me In

I never managed to properly like Let the Right One In, possibly because - even though the movie was brilliantly executed - there was no connection to the viewer. It was just too cold, too distanced, too emotionless. Too many things were just implied, and not in the way that made you feel good for figuring them out.

Therefore, I had mixed expectations for Let Me In - its American remake. My first surprise came from the fact that it followed the original almost exactly. The plot is the same, with just a few minor adjustments in the dynamics of the supporting cast, the forlorn and oppressing atmosphere is also very close to the Swedish bleakness of the other movie. The difference, then, is one of connection.

Owen (Kodi Smith-McPhee) is a lonely young boy, living with his overbearing and yet distant mother (whose face we never actually see), with a father who is only a disinterested voice on the phone. He is shy and introverted, which makes him a focus for the school bullies attention, and he spends his time alone in the playground near his apartment. But then Abby (Chloe Moretz) arrives - a girl his age, moving next door with her father. And even though there seems to be something wrong with the new family, Owen quickly becomes friends with Abby. But then the murders start...

Let Me In is not the modern kind of vampire story. There is no glitter there, no quaffed hairdos, and no ripped abs (actually, one of the bullies had those but never mind). It is - just like the original, and like - I assume - the book that inspired it - a tale of loneliness, of repressed anger and violence. Vampirism is not erotic here, not alluring and sexy. It is parasitic, ugly and demanding, monstrous and cruel. And it is to the movie's credit that it manages to walk the thin line between Abby the lonely girl in need of human contact, and Abby the ancient manipulator who measures her every word and action. You are never specifically told which one's real, but there is enough in Let Me In to suggest both. Also, unlike Let The Right One In, this time around you are given the chance to sympathize with her "dad" (Richard Jenkins) who was once, maybe, just a boy like Owen. And who might just be in the process of being replaced. It is themes like that, which were present in the original, but never expanded upon, that raise the remake above it, since it features them in a more pronounced way, while still managing not to actually state or commit to any one.

The casting is really good. Kodi Smith-McPhee is a perfect choice for the wimpy and weak Owen with his issues of abandonment and repressed aggression, and for a time his character is actually a lot creepier than Abby. But as the movie progresses, we can easily see just how vulnerable and helpless he is, how terribly alone and hopeless he feels. And it is to the boy's credit that Smirh-McPhee portrays that without going sappy. Kick-Ass and (500) Days of Summer's Chloe Moretz is also perfect for her role, with her slightly androginous features used to maximum effect in pointing out the fact that she is not a girl, not really. She is in turns innocent and manipulative, weak and hideously powerful, and this duality is just perfect for the role.

Let Me In is sickeningly grayish-green almost the entire time. Owen and Abby's apartments are depressingly poor and claustrophobic, and the 80's setting only increases the oppressive atmosphere. Music is fittingly gloomy as well, but the special effects and gore factor are a little jarring. Abby's vampiric exploits are a bit too artificial and computerized, while blood, guts, hideous burns etc. tend to be too much in the viewers' faces for comfort.

But, admittedly, comfort is the last thing Let Me In is going for. It is a depressing and disquieting movie, one where what should be a simple love story between lonely children is turned into a twisted parasitic relationship with no clear future or even hope of real honesty. Thankfully though, the most disturbing scene from Let The Right One In - the one where the boy sees the girl naked for an instant - has been edited out of the remake. Even without it though, the movie is not an easy one to watch, and still it's also impossible not to appreciate. It really pains me to know that it tanked so horribly in the box-office. Obviously shirtless werewolves is what sells your vampires nowadays, but even without those, Let Me In somehow manages to be the best vampire movie to come out in a very long time. So do yourself and the movie's box-office a favor, and go see it on the big screen.


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