You’ve either seen Let the Right One In or you haven’t; either way, I’m betting you’ll love Let Me In, the uber-faithful, yet subtly distinctive, U.S. remake. I first saw clips of the movie at Comic-Con where director Matt Reeves (Cloverfield) was clearly worried about alleviating concerns that he had taken a subtle, evocative vampire story and driven it off the cliff with exaggerated horror jolts. So he brought with him two quiet, pensive, heartbreaking clips – and left most of the faithful fans intrigued. Here’s a vampire film that understands the audacity of silence.
Well I’m thrilled to report that the solemn melancholy of the original storyline remains mostly intact in Let Me In. This is a sad, reflective story, about two relatively tragic figures. And the shift in tone is barely perceptible: Whereas Let the Right One In felt like a sigh in the silence, Let Me In has the feel of a requiem, a more emotionally loaded meditation on the bloodsucker blues. Things are just slightly less understated this time around, a little more overtly mournful, but I think that’s what will allow fans of the original to engage and connect with this variation. For any devoted fan of the original, who already knows and loves these characters, Let Me In is the emotive counterpoint. Reeves, using heartbreaking orchestrations and an ominous choral track, seems more willing to punctuate the silence, building to greater highs and lows. (More at Techland: The 20 greatest vampire films you’ve never seen)
Still, it’s a minor modulation. The story has been moved from Europe to the insular, military community of Los Alamos, New Mexico. Yes, it’s still playing out in the dead of winter, with snow everywhere; and yes, Owen is as anxious and lonely as ever. Kodi Smit-McPhee (The Road) plays the boy with a little more surface sadness and anger; we meet him as he’s acting out revenge fantasies against the bullies at school, using his pocket knife to stab a tree. He gorges on secretly purchased candy while sitting alone in the moonlit courtyard of his apartment complex, then spends his days trying to evade capture and beatings at school.
One night, barefooted Abby shows up to live next door, walking through the snow without a shiver. Chloe Moretz (Kick-Ass) plays this young/ancient vampire slightly more feminine and inviting than Lina Leandersson did in the original. That said, Abby is still cold and detached, battling demons far more intractable than Owen. She lives with The Father, this time played by Richard Jenkins, who turns his character’s emotions up a couple degrees as well. The Father clearly loves Abby, but he has lost his youthful vigor and is visibly struggling to carry out his nightly missions to get her more blood. By bumping up a key Father scene to play out at the beginning of the storyline, Reeves places an added emphasis on this lover of an immortal soul. While she remains stuck in time, The Father (at one time surely The Classmate, The Lover) ages and fades, always remind by Abby of the growing gulf between them.
Owen’s mother is a woman in the midst of getting a divorce, slowly spiraling into alcoholism. His one phone call to his absentee father finally reveals the hidden ocean of heartache that is consuming this young boy. And it makes his growing, desperate relationship with Abby that much more understandable, even relatable. Abby sees something of a kindred spirit in this young boy – as well as a potential heir to The Father’s place in her life – and Owen sees the chance to make a tangible connection. Therre’s certainly a bit of idealized Romeo and Juliet here – the book that Owen’s class is reading at school, not that he pays any attention to the ending – as both young hearts refuse to admit the hopelessness of their cause. Abby tells Owen that she is not simply a teenage girl – yes, the transgender issues of the original have remained, minus the most overt sexual shot of the Swedish production – but Owen hears only what he wants to hear, relieved to have someone, anyone, in his life. And Abby, shrewdly and somewhat crassly (after seeing in The Father the heartache of a lover who grows old and dies alone) nevertheless permits the “romance” with Owen to proceed.
In the pursuit of survival, it’s remarkable to see what both Abby and Owen will allow themselves to believe.
There was more of an emphasis on isolation in Tomas Alfredson’s film, of these two sad people surrounded by the blackness of night. But Reeves seems less interested in restrained observation; he wants to understand the full tragedy of these events. He builds our bridge a little further out, reaching for these souls who have little left to live for besides one another. And I could be mistaken, but I think the few scenes of gore in this movie involved a higher quantity and density of blood, challenging our sweet introduction to Abby with a little more violence and monstrosity than we are prepared for. There’s a little bit of Beauty and the Beast here, as Owen must finally confront the brutal nature of his new (but only) friend.
So it’s a challenge to come to a final conclusion about Let Me In; rarely has Hollywood been so faithful in adapting a brilliant foreign film. While there are some key alterations – The Father’s demise, Owen’s discovery of Abby’s past relationships, a darkly ironic little addition in which Owen keeps singing the “Now and Later” candy theme song – the central, heartbreaking core of the relationship has remained intact. And the acting has only gone to amplify the emotional strains: The hope, the desperation, the fear (of monsters, of death, of loneliness).
Going to great lengths to strip away the mysticism, sexuality and macabre aspects of vampire lore, Let Me In has taken everything tantalizing about most fanged thrillers and converted it instead into an element of agony. Owen is not seduced. Abby does not relish the kill. Blood is not a life force but a scarlet letter, pointing to a cursed existence. And even the union of Owen and Abby is underscored by the tragic realization that they can never really “be” together. Vampires are usually catalysts, but here Abby creates something of a negative space. Her life, free of mortal fears and doomed to endless isolation, seems more like a prison. And Owen increasingly gives up his chance at normalcy to be with her.
Is this a complete life? Hardly. But maybe it’s the best Owen and Abby can ever hope for – and we feel happy for them, even if we are haunted by what awaits them down the road.
This is one of the year’s best films. It makes all other vamp flicks look like kid’s play.