Let Me In and the Hows and Whys of the Remake
When it was announced a few years back that a U.S. remake of the Swedish preteen-vampire film (and indie hit) Let the Right One In was in the works, fans of the original let out a collective groan. Leave it to stupid Americans to refuse to read subtitles! The remake -- to be made by Matt Reeves, director of the 2008 Cloverfield, as well as several episodes of Felicity -- would certainly trample on the delicacy of this small Swedish gem.
I confess I'm not a huge fan of Let the Right One In: Its bland dourness didn't convince me of its genius, and I couldn't quite hook into its mood of quiet romantic dread (though I loved Lina Leandersson, the actress who plays the perpetually 12-year-old vampire girl). But Reeves' Let Me In is a pleasant surprise, a remake that takes the raw goods of the original and retools them in a way that's both respectful and revitalizing. The setting is 1983 New Mexico; Kodi Smit-McPhee (who played "Boy" in John Hillcoat's chilly, and chilling, Cormac McCarthy adaptation The Road) plays Owen, a 12-year-old whose parents' marriage has broken up and who's repeatedly bullied at school. Chloe Moretz (perhaps best known as Hit-Girl in Kick-Ass; she reminds me of a very young Nastassia Kinski) is Abby, the strange and alluring little creature who steals into town one night with her "father" (played, in a stroke of brilliant casting, by the great Richard Jenkins).
Reeves follows John Ajvide Lindqvist's original script quite closely -- some might say too closely. Though I haven't seen Let the Right One In since it was released in the States in 2008, there were scenes in Let Me In that triggered a strong sense of déjà-vu. I did wonder, now and then, if perhaps Reeves hadn't brought enough new ideas to the project. I'll have to watch Let the Right One In again to be sure.
But for now, my gut sense is that Reeves has put his own subtle stamp on the material. Let Me In for the most part preserves the original's quiet, suggestive quality: There are a few shock moments, but Reeves chooses, wisely, not to amp up the noise. Instead he allows the eerie, velvety quiet of the story's Los Alamos setting to provide a kind of near-silent background hum. The picture has a persistently throbbing pulse that you can almost hear.
There's something else, too: Setting the story in a specific time and place actually makes it seem more timeless rather than less, largely because Reeves has peppered the soundtrack with lost songs from late '70s and early '80s top-40 radio: They're not used for kitsch value; instead, they place the movie in a neverending present that happens to be nearly 30 years in the past. The most unsettling and the most exhilarating sequence in the picture is the one -- adapted straight from the original -- in which Jenkins' character springs from the backseat of a parked car to kill the unsuspecting teenage boy who's sitting in front. The song pouring from the radio is Blue Oyster Cult's "Burnin' for You," a song that I, and maybe you, haven't thought about in years -- as Reeves uses it, it re-emerges into the earth's atmosphere like a signal from the land of the undead. Why remake a perfectly fine -- some might say great -- picture like Let the Right One In? Is it really necessary? Maybe not. But like a piece of great music, a strong movie can withstand multiple interpretations. And sometimes you even hear notes that you might not have caught the first time.