If Matt Reeves’ vampire coming-of-age story Let Me In had been made before the Swedish original, Tomas Alfredsson’s Let the Right One In, would we automatically think it was the better of the two?
It didn’t work that way, and we’ll never know. Let Me In, written and directed by Cloverfield’s Reeves, underlines and capitalizes so much of what was wonderfully understated about the original. Still, this creepy vampire flick, set in 1983 small-town New Mexico, is better than most horror films that Hollywood will release anytime soon.
Alfredsson’s 2008 original (you know, the good ol’ days) has a real genius for holding sick or horrifying scenes and daring you to laugh. A great example: a sweet dog stumbles onto a private moment in the woods. The killer is draining blood from a victim, and the fluffy white critter comes and sits as if he is waiting for a ball to be thrown. In comparison, the same scene in Let Me In is shot strictly for its shock value, effective but one-dimensional. Reeves also misses an implied trick from the original — the possibility that the child vampire (Chloe Grace Moretz from Kick-Ass) is a psychological projection of the disturbed 12-year-old boy (Kodi Smit-McPhee) that enables his Carrie-like vengeance on the bullies around him.
It's possible to be let down by the first half of the remake if you only notice what's missing. Then something happens. It suddenly gets good. Reeves does a better job at crafting touching moments, and the film is high on creepiness that’s generated fairly, through character and place and the fears of growing up. Will loving a girl free you, or change you, or enslave you? No boy going through puberty knows.
What's admirable about this version is the efficiency. The Swedish version had a subplot about aging hippies with an ending that didn’t pay off for the limping along. That disappears. The cinematography and production design are more elaborate, all darkness and halos of light, spooky and memorable. Reeves and his crew show a real talent for transforming a closed door into more than a closed door.
A couple of pet peeves: Why choose Los Alamos, New Mexico? If you’re interested in small-town metaphors (rather than Cold War metaphors), why choose the home of the National Laboratory and one of the most educated small towns in the country? When the boy tells the girl that no one ever moves there, it’s a bit ridiculous. Everyone who lives there moves there, unless Los Alamos High School has an unusually great program in nuclear science.
The second pet peeve: You know those painfully over-researched 18th Century period pieces where everything is too much like a painting? Where the dresses are too clean and too perfect and everyone has nice teeth? Let Me In is that to the ’80s. It’s loudly full of Ms. Pac-Mans and Now and Laters. And the music? Eleven-year-olds in New Mexico didn’t listen to Freur. You were lucky if you had Oingo Boingo. Let’s take a breath and admit that all they played was Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam.
But they're called pet peeves for a reason. They’re pet peeves, not deal-breakers. In the end, you won’t find a better October horror film this year. Happy Halloween!
Why We Like It: efficient scares, emotional insight into adolescence, great Halloween treat