REVIEW: Warm, Passionate Let Me In Rescues Vampire Genre
In a pop-culture world that's coming dangerously close to vampire overload, the last thing we need is another picture about lovelorn bloodsuckers. But Matt Reeves' Let Me In -- a somewhat faithful yet distinctive reimagining of Swedish director Tomas Alfredson's 2008 Let the Right One In -- shouldn't be lumped in with all the other rascally vampire dramas out there clamoring for our attention. Let Me In, like the pre-teen vampire at its center, is a rare creature on the contemporary movie landscape: It's a remake that surpasses its predecessor in depth and vision. And it's an adamantly un-sadistic horror movie that uses poetic visual suggestion (accented by some well-placed gore) to lure us into its dark little heart.
Reeves -- who also wrote the screenplay, riffing on the original script John Ajvide Lindqvist adapted from his own novel -- has moved the setting from Sweden to Los Alamos, New Mexico, circa 1983. Though the two locales are on opposite ends of the landscape, they share a similar depressive vibe, and both movies are set largely in cramped, decidedly uncheerful apartment complexes centered around courtyards that are almost always deserted. Kodi Smit-McPhee plays Owen, an awkward 12-year-old who lives in one of these not particularly inviting apartments with his wine-tippling, religious-freak mother. (His parents are in the middle of a divorce.) He spends most of his evenings alone in the silent, snowy courtyard, sulking about the bullies who torture him at school. He dreams, in reveries that are slightly disturbing, of taking revenge on them; but he's a small kid, and clearly a sensitive one, too -- he's no match for these mini-thugs, whose nascent macho brainlessness is coupled with childlike cruelty.
Sitting alone in that courtyard one evening, chewing on his favorite candy (while humming its 90 percent annoying, 10 percent creepy theme song, a recurring motif in the movie), he meets a waifish charmer who pads through the snow in bare feet. "I don't get cold," she tells him, in her little-girl-lost voice, and we don't have to wonder why. Her name is Abby (she's played by Chloe Moretz, of Kick-Ass fame), and she's just moved into the complex with a man who appears to be her father, a hunched, bespectacled figure -- played, in a mournful little performance, by Richard Jenkins -- who looks as if he wishes he could disappear into the badly plastered walls around him.
Abby warns Owen from the beginning that the two of them can't be friends, but she's as charmed and intrigued by him as he is by her. In their bone-cold loneliness, they can't resist seeking each other out, and so they meet each night in the courtyard, less by appointment than by some foreordained planetary pull. (It's little wonder Reeves makes Romeo and Juliet, both the play and the silly yet extremely moving Zeffirelli movie version of it, a part of the retooled narrative.)
If you've seen the original -- and probably even if you haven't -- you know why Abby resists making friends with Owen, and you also know the role of her protector. But where Let the Right One In cultivated a meticulous air of chilly remoteness, never allowing us too close to the characters, Let Me In is a warm, passionate work, one with blood coursing through its veins. Reeves has made a picture that's both more delicate and more moving than you'd expect from the filmmaker behind (with J.J. Abrams' help) the gimmicky, emotionally flat Cloverfield. Reeves is in complete control here, but instead of wresting the narrative into shape, he allows it to flow on an uneasy, moody current. The picture opens with an aerial shot of a depressingly tiny-looking ambulance winding its way, lights flashing, through a vast nighttime landscape of snowy, forest-lined roads -- this is a movie where isolation is both dangerous and comforting, the best and saddest escape from real life you could possibly hope for.
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