Let Me In

Posted: October 7, 2010 by crowbait in Film, Reviews
Let Me In is the American remake of a very popular Swedish film; Let the Right One In. It stays close to its roots, recreating some scenes shot-for-shot and even taking dialogue from the translated subtitles of last year’s  DVD release. Here’s the synopsis:

Friendless Owen is the victim of bullies and spends his nights wishing he could fight back. A new family, father and daughter move in to the neighboring apartment and Owen is immediately fascinated. Despite her emotional detachment, he forms a relationship with the girl, Abby, and she advises him that he must learn to face violence with violence. At the same time, Abby’s father stalks and kills young men, bringing home their blood for her to feed upon. As age catches up with him, he is no longer a useful aid to the vampiric Abby and she is forced to hunt for herself. Owen takes Abby’s lessons and strikes back against the bullies while growing closer to her until their mutual violence brings greater forces against them.

While Let Me In could be reviewed on its own merits, It’s impossible for us to review this film without making comparisons to the Swedish original, a film we all loved when we first saw it. It’s in these contrasts that we see much of the detail and international flavor. Bear in mind that these comparisons will contain spoilers.

Our Review:

We agreed on a rating of 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Would we recommend?

Yes. This is an excellent film that deserves to be seen, both by those new to the film and those who can compare it to the Swedish original. Though we missed the details that were left out, the introduction of some new elements kept the interest high. We expect that without having already blown up about the original, this would have been our film of the year.

The positive:

This film sees the revivification of Hammer film studios. Under their banner a new line of films is slated for release, though the first takes the “safe” path of remakes. In keeping with the Hammer tradition, the horror elements of this remake are more prominent than the Swedish original. Gore and makeup effects are amped up; the score is prominent and projects a dark mood long before introducing quiet themes; a few collateral damage victims are added; CGI makes the vampire more bestial; bullying includes more painful violence; The Father wears a plastic bag as a mask when stalking victims; the simple husband looking to avenge his wife’s death is replaced by Elias Koteas as a police detective. The film opens with a scene recreated from the original but now out of sequence so that the audience first sees one of the more gruesome deaths.

The underlying story remains the same and maintains its theme of twisted love between an undying monster and a damaged boy. Abby fulfills Owen’s needs for companionship and affection, unmet by his alcoholic mother and lack of friends among his peers. This isn’t a Twilight emo-love story however. Abby’s feelings are expressed in teaching Owen to not fear violence as a solution to his problems. It is made clear early in the film that Abby needs a servant to bring her blood so she can avoid infecting victims with vampirism and being exposed. Her love of Owen is based around need.

The future path of this relationship is demonstrated by Abby’s Father. He’s a once devoted Renfield-like servant who has become too old to provide for her any longer, botching his murders and forcing her to go hunting. The role, played by Richard Jenkins provides an interesting character change, as the zealotry of The Father in the original is replaced by exhaustion and misery. The sequences in which he stalks victims have a sense of tension, both for and against The Father. He has been successfully made a sympathetic character, albeit a homicidal one, and the sense of anticipation over whether he will make the kill or be discovered is very affecting. Even knowing how these sequences end from seeing the original, the feeling was still there.

Kodi Smit-McPhee takes a great turn as Owen, though his character also sees much revision from the Oskar of the Swedish version. When Owen faces the results of his violence he is frightened himself, while Oskar is unrepentant. Owen is more fragile or perhaps more human, while Oskar gives the impression of a serial killer in training. Something which both must eventually become if they will be of use to the vampire.

Chloe Moretz shines in this film as the focus of all of the character’s attention. An actress already known for playing roles mature beyond her years, she has the right child-like look, but carries the gravitas of an ancient creature. An actress with that ability for defying her age is a great asset to have (and almost made Kick Ass good. Almost. -crowbait.) Much of her performance is patterned off of Lina Leandersson’s excellent work as Eli in the original, so we would expect no less.

The negative:

Not all of the moves made to increase the film’s horror appeal are successful. The CGI used to make Abby leap up trees and attack her victims like a crazed monkey lacks weight and looks cartoonish when used in long scenes. Some of the makeup effects used on Abby damage sympathy we may feel because her monstrous nature is undeniable.

The reveal of Abby to Owen is a particularly horrifying scene, much more so than the Swedish version and it damages suspension of disbelief that Owen accepts what she is. Also, Owen realizes what he means to Abby as he finds out that her father is actually another servant. This changes the audience perception of their relationship but doesn’t affect him for long.

A good deal of subtlety was discarded in the remaking. As stated before, gore and makeup are more obvious and some touches, like the single frame of Eli’s eyes in the dark basement, are lost. Some questions left unanswered are dropped or resolved quickly. These are things that wouldn’t trouble anyone seeing the film cold but with the background of the original they are missed.

Personal notes:

Jenny Dreadful: Crowbait took the time to write an article based on an hour-long discussion between the three of us and most of the ground has been covered quite thoroughly. Just a few thoughts. There’s one thing that really struck me about the film and it’s stayed with me ever since. The ending. It’s exactly the same ending as Let the Right One In with one tiny change. So insignificant at first glance, but it changes the mood and how I feel about the film’s plot as a whole. I’m impressed. Otherwise, I liked the elements they added, but sorely missed the elements they left out. I also thought it was a very interesting choice to confirm audience assumptions from the first film about “The Father”, previously left vague, even though doing so strays from the novel’s plot. Overall, I liked it. I would consider owning it.

Crowbait: I really was taken in by The Father as he brought the most engaging new material to the story. The kitchen scene between him and Abby was one of the most beautiful in the film and was especially moving because of silence. The film had a rocky start for me because I found the more American horror movie music to be overbearing at first and even through the first act, the score was blatantly telling us how to feel about everything. After that it backed off to a reasonable level.Michael Giacchino has done some great work but I feel the “welcome to Hammer Horror” opening was not what this film needed.

Stayfrosty: I agree with much of Crowbait’s opinion – the kitchen scene between Abby and The Father is definitely one of the best in the film and the silence made it even better.  The acting was excellent and the look of the film is stark and moody.  That being said, while I enjoyed this movie and think it’s beautifully made, I found that after seeing it I wasn’t excited about it.  There were some interesting tonal shifts between this and the original, but not enough that I felt like I was watching a truly unique take on the film.  Director Matt Reeves (“Cloverfield”) has shown that he can handle original material just fine, why not allow him to create another original work and push a wide release of “Let the Right One In”?  I know that many Americans have an aversion to reading subtitles, but that can only be changed by allowing more interesting foreign films to have wide releases in the States.  So in the end, it’s a wonderfully made film and recommended viewing, but ultimately unnecessary.  I don’t mean to sound overly negative – I did love this movie and many of my positive thoughts are already stated above in our combined review.

Does it Pass the Bechdel Test?

Nope. There are very few named female characters. There is one possible scene in which Abby and a nurse have a quick conversation, but the nurse is not a named character. (Avoiding the gender questions from the source material entirely, of course -Jenny Dreadful)

  1. Bret says:

    Now I am excited about seeing it!

  2. Lukas says:

    Great review! I felt almost exactly the same after seeing this movie. Let The Right One In was one of my favorite movies of last year, and I expected this one to be a disappointment. It was nice to be wrong.

    • Thank you very much! Let the Right One is amazing. In this time of terrible terrible remakes, it was hard to imagine any good coming out of this. A very nice surprise!

      I agree with StayFrosty, though, that this director is so talented and should be working on a ton of new original horror movies. I love Cloverfield! <3 I hope he does more work in the genre.

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