Film Reviews

Film Review // Let Me In

October 19, 2010

Directed by Matt Reeves / Release (Wide): Oct 1, 2010 / R, 1 hr. 55 min.

What is the nature of a monster?  Where does the monstrosity come from? Is it from some realm in outer space? Is it from the shadows of remote places? Do they reside in dimensions outside of our own? For the empirical mind, it seems that these horrendous apparitions must be the embodiment of our own inner deformities. Our world is home to superstitions and stories on the fringes, sometimes just barely believable. But are there really monsters out there, between the blur of what we can see and what is invisible?

As I watched Let Me In, a film by Matt Reeves, I couldn’t help but question the darker memories somewhere beneath the veil of my subconscious.

Before I delve deeper, though, I must place the film in proper context.

Let the Right One In is a Swedish novel, written in 2004 by author John Ajvide Lindqvist. The book was later adapted into a film (of the same name) and was directed by Swedish film director, Tomas Alfredson. It released in 2008 and was met with much critical acclaim. Before the film even finished going through the festival circuit, the rights to an English-language version were picked up by Hammer Films. Matt Reeves, previously known for directing the movie Cloverfield, was quickly named as the director of this remake.

I admit that I was originally a bit dismayed at the news. I had seen Alfredson’s film and had been enthralled by it. The quiet moments, the frigid landscapes, the impeccable casting–it was all done with utmost care. The film succeeded in taking a somewhat grotesque subject and turning it into an endearing story about adolescence–a visual waltz of insecurity, morbidity, love, and trust.

Author Lindqvist was involved with Alfredson’s film, providing the screenplay and consultation on the direction of the film. Initially, speculation was that Let Me In would draw a fresh perspective from the book, but instead, it plays out very similarly to Alfredson’s version. Many unexplored themes contained in the book (i.e., pedophilia, gender, etc.) are also omitted or downplayed in Reeve’s retelling.

While Let Me In has gained high marks by the critics, many tend to recognize Alfredson’s as the superior film. Several critics argue that Reeves lacked originality in his retelling; that despite having engineered an elegant and eerie film, it wasn’t absolutely necessary.  Case in point: Ty Burr’s review in the Boston Globe.

Burr clearly prefers the first film, if for no other reason than his inability to separate the former film from the latter. He writes, “… as someone who has seen Let the Right One In and therefore can’t un-see it, I kept glimpsing the original behind the tracing paper of the new film and wishing I could tear the paper away.”

To anyone who has seen the original, this may potentially be their experience.

However, even though I watched and loved the original, I can claim that Reeve’s film is not only deserving of the critical praise it has garnered, but also an important and necessary addition to the universe first conceived by Lindqvist.

While Alfredson’s quiet, subtle approach to the story serves to create a chilling melancholia, Reeves is able to invoke a greater sense of dread, and a more harrowing inspection of the monsters that are all around us.

One subtle technique employed by Reeves (to great effect) is the way in which he films the mother character (Cara Buono). Her face is almost perpetually hidden or indecipherable, indicative of the absence Owen (played by Kodi Smit-McPhee) feels. This stylistic choice consistently creates a vacuum of emotion, wherein Owen is seen as neglected, lonely, and confused. His father, who is in the middle of a divorce, is only heard through the telephone, unable to relate with his son’s plea for answers.

There are other cinematic choices, including the color palette, the focus techniques, and an exquisite shot of a car accident which also induces a certain mood that was absent from the original. I’m in no way downplaying Alfredson’s film, but am merely illustrating some of the flavors that were brought to the story by Reeves.

The rest of the cast includes Chloe Moretz as the young vampire, Abby, and Richard Jenkins as her “father figure.”  Elias Koteas is a curious, determined police officer. Each of them play their parts to perfection, and create far more dynamic characters than most of the auxiliary characters in the original film. The one mishap, I would say, would lie in the treatment of the Victoria character (played by Sasha Barrese), whose characterization was left malnourished. The original film, conversely, provided a much more interesting climax to her story arc.

I must include one additional, albeit minor, gripe with Reeves’ film, however trivial it may be. There are a few scenes wherein CG is used to display violent, preternatural movements by the vampire, which, to be fair, add a certain gnarly flair that would be hard to emulate in live action. The scenes are effective in depicting the “otherworldy-ness” of the vampire character, but can be a bit grating to see after growing so fond of the characters.

On a more optimistic note, I must applaud the soundtrack for adding to the unearthly dread I referenced earlier. While the original used much less music, creating a picture reminiscent of “still life,” the latter delves into the soul with much more precision, and much more tension.

Again, while it may seem like this review somewhat discredits Alfredson’s version, I am merely examining some of the choices that Reeves made in creating his tale in lieu of its cinematic predecessor, illustrating what effect they had on me. Much in the same way that plays are staged over and over again, sometimes with different costumes or settings, Let Me In succeeds in fabricating a fresh perspective from a similar (if not identical) story.

As the final credits of Let Me In rolled, I was left contemplating some of the monsters in my past. In adolescence, the world was quickly shifting from a simple, loving place into a violent, unsettling universe. Humanity was no longer confined to a group of people around me (family, friends, neighbors), but a larger, more menacing force. I sometimes felt like an outsider. Other times, I thought everyone else was strange. Somehow, what had once appeared to be good now seemed sinister, and that which was once evil, I now desired.

I was face to face with the Other, and I couldn’t tell the difference.

There are monsters in Let Me In, but they are not restricted to an adolescent vampire that suffers from a deadly appetite. It is in the form of a distant mother whose life has caved in after her husband leaves her. It is in the psychosis of an old man who kills innocent people for blood. It is in a school bully who, even at a very young age, has no empathy for a fellow classmate. There are monsters all around us — sometimes, within ourselves.

The dread in Reeves’ film comes to a magnanimous climax when Owen chooses Abby over what he thought was right. At that moment, we can almost buy it. That things will get better. But as we are reminded of how things turned out for Richard Jenkins’ character, we realize that things are not that simple. There are monsters in each one of us.

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