Judge Mike Rubino still can't figure out a Rubik's Cube.
Our review of Let Me In (Blu-Ray), published January 31st, 2011, is also available.
"Innocence dies. Abby doesn't."
The vampire genre used to be respectable. Before it was taken over by depressed mallrats, vampire tales were steeped in Eastern European tradition and gothic lore…or at least involved Wesley Snipes and a bunch of fancy trade-show swords. After a few years of pop culture soiling, some of the genre's former glory is returning with the help of Let Me In.
Facts of the Case
In a small housing community in New Mexico, Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee, The Road) sits alone, spying on his neighbors from his bedroom window. He's a quiet kid, a little angry and introverted, with divorced parents and zero friends. That's when Abby (Chloe Moretz, Kick-Ass) shows up. She's a mysteriously derelict 12-year-old who's just moved into the apartment next door with her father (Richard Jenkins, Burn After Reading).
Owen spends his days being tormented by bullies, and his nights awkwardly getting close to Abby. She's not a very easy person to get to know: Why doesn't she wear shoes in the snow? What does her father do when he skulks out of the apartment in the middle of the night carrying empty jugs? Why is she never outside in the daytime?
Let Me In is a remake of the 2008 Swedish film Let the Right One In, which is based on the novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist.
Kids don't really get to be kids when it comes to the fantasy genres. They're wizards, they're superheroes, they're precocious aliens or adventurers, bur rarely are they just kids dealing with real kidstuff. Let Me In succeeds as not only being a top-notch horror film, but a real film about mature love and adolescent bullying.
The film spends a lot of its time meditating quietly on the relationship between Owen and Abby, a couple of middle schoolers who met on the playground of their apartment complex. They're perfectly cast—Smit-McPhee and Moretz trade glances, cautiously try to connect, and eventually fall in love, all without me ever rolling my eyes and saying "Oh, child actors…" Unlike the cold, androgynous undertones of the Swedish original (and the novel), director Matt Reeves's version is decidedly warm and straightforward. Their relationship, and their sacrifices for one another, is more mature than the adults around them.
The film isn't all pre-teen mush—take notes, Twilight. Let Me In is legitimately suspenseful. Richard Jenkins, as Abby's ambiguous caretaker, is largely responsible for the film's tension early on. In order to provide for his vampire-daughter, he dawns a garbage bag mask and goes on the hunt for people. These murder sequences are fairly different from the original, but work better; Reeves stamps them with his own style, including a continuous-take car wreck sequence that will drop your jaw. Once the plot escalates beyond the serial killer stuff, the unnerving realism of Owen's bully problem takes center stage.
There are plenty of instances in the film where Reeves's vision matches up almost shot-for-shot with the original, but it's the subtle differences that put the American version on top—or at least make it more relevant to U.S. viewers. Specifically, the bullying feels much harsher this time around, especially during the film's climactic showdown in the swimming pool. The timing of the film with the rise in social consciousness about bullying makes Owen's struggles at school scarier than some little vampire girl. Ultimately, it's a film that both embraces the conventions of the vampire subgenre (sensitivity to light, thirst for blood, etc.) and pushes them aside for much more relatable, more effective, horror.
Let Me In eschews most of the cold, desolate Swedishness of the original for a much warmer (it's still winter, of course) palette. Matt Reeves's directorial skills are far more impressive here than in Cloverfield. It's not just the absence of a shaky cam, it's Reeves's framing, unobtrusive CGI, and suggestive violence that makes the film feel much larger than its indie status. Cinematographer Greig Fraser deserves some of the credit too. The movie's orange/blue color scheme is nicely done, and the night scenes have just the right amount of light to keep the action moody but discernible. It helps that the standard def release of Let Me In comes with a gorgeous transfer—the edges are sharp, the colors pop, and the darkness is at just the right level. It's a good looking movie.
This single-disc release also has an impressive collection of supplements. There's a commentary track with Reeves, as well as a handful of deleted scenes with more commentary. More interesting are the behind-the-scenes videos, covering a general overview of the film and specific digital effects like the single-take car wreck—the process they used to create that sequence is impressive, to say the least. The package also comes with a tiny prequel comic book.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
I'm sure there are many fans of the original 2008 Swedish film that will say this is just a shot-for-shot American remake. The differences appear minor at first, but they tweak the theme of the film, and the ending, while technically the same, resonates better because of them. Really, both films are excellent, and fans of one should certainly check out the other.
Let Me In is possibly the best horror film of 2010. It's a well-made, beautifully acted vampire film with enough visual panache and big ideas to make it a must see…even for folks sick of bloodsuckers.
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