Film Review: Let Me InMatt Reeves' remarkably good English-language remake of the 2008 Swedish horror movie <i>Let the Right One In</i> revolves around a bullied adolescent who finds his first real friend in the odd, secretive girl next door. The only problem is that she’
Writer-director Matt (Cloverfield) Reeves’ remake of the 2008 Swedish art-house hit Let the Right One In is a welcome surprise: Not only does it refrain from softening or dumbing down the story of a persecuted youngster who finds his soul mate in a vampire, but it incorporates additional material taken from John Ajvide Lindqvist’s deeply disturbing source novel.
In a few years, the pale skin, slight build, wide eyes and unsettlingly lush lips of 12-year-old Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee) will come together into the kind of sensual, vaguely androgynous look that makes cool college girls weak in the knees. But right now, in the bleak, isolated New Mexico community where he lives with his soon-to-be-divorced mother (Cara Buono), they mark Owen as a natural-born victim, and alpha-bully Kenny (Dylan Minnette) and his pals (Jimmy Jax Pinchak, Nicolai Dorian) have made tormenting him their number-one priority.
Owen’s clueless mom is spiraling into alcohol-fueled depression, and he can’t bring himself to confide in gruffly sympathetic gym teacher Mr. Zoric (Ritchie Coster), the only other adult who seems to know Owen is alive. So he suffers in silence until chance throws a friend his way, in the form of Abby (Chloe Grace Moretz), the elusive, neglected-looking girl newly installed in the adjoining apartment with her creepy father (Richard Jenkins).
Initially cool to Owen’s awkward overtures, Abby quickly becomes the only bright spot in his grim existence. Though equally isolated and probably abused (it never occurs to the traumatized Owen to report the vicious words and thuds he hears through the wall), Abby has a melancholy self-confidence and air of worldliness he both worships and envies.
Her arrival, however, coincides with a series of brutal events: the bizarre murder of an older teenager, the discovery of a corpse frozen in the skating-pond ice, a car crash that leaves a second teen dead and an unidentified man clinging to life from apparently self-inflicted acid burns. Just as Owen thinks he’s found someone who can help him get through the years before he’s old enough to leave Los Alamos and never come back, parents, teachers and a morose police detective (Elias Koteas) are suddenly intensely interested in what the young people of Los Alamos are doing.
Let the Right One In is the anti-Twilight, a supernatural coming-of-age story in which a misfit teen is seduced not by the prospect of glitter-dusted romance with a vampire, but by the proximity of power. When Let Me In’s Owen asks Abby to be his girlfriend, he’s clearly not imagining the bliss of furtive caresses in the dark: He and Abby may be the same age (even if she has “been 12 for a very long time”), but she’s found freedom from the oppressive dictates of capricious, unreliable and preoccupied adults and he wants a piece of it.
Though Reeves incorporates scenes that didn’t make it into Tomas Alfredson’s Let the Right One In, the wintry palette is drawn directly from the earlier film, and some sequences are duplicated almost shot for shot. But that’s not really a criticism, because Alfredson nailed a look that perfectly evokes the seething despair of being the wrong adolescent in the wrong place at the wrong time: There’s no upside to tinkering with something that’s already spot-on just for the sake of being different.
Also to his credit, Reeves resists the temptation to turn poor little Owen into a saintly, sacrificial lamb. Far from seeking solace in books or art or the fraternity of fandom, he’s channeling his anguish into vivid dreams of revenge and is one well-timed growth spurt away from becoming the worst-possible-case scenario Kenny: a victim turned victimizer who can hide behind delicate good looks and years of practice keeping his true thoughts hidden safely out of sight.
Let Me In is a horror movie and no two ways about it: It earns its R rating and traffics in the kind of nightmare-making stuff many people prefer to lock in their mental basement. But it’s an unusually smart, subtle and resonant horror movie, one that will linger long after slasher-film shocks are long forgotten.