Interpretations are dangerous things. Books to movies are a risky move at the best of times, and are always met with constant comparison. Foreign films to US remakes are in a similar boat, loved by some but hated by just as many. Combining the two could have been career suicide for up-and-coming Director Matt Reeves (best known for Cloverfield), but luckily the gamble paid off.
Let Me In (originally a novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist titled Let the right one in) manages to retain the grit of the original Swedish film and stay true to the source material. Reeves demonstrates an understanding of what gave the book and first film its character by replacing the symbolic and lonely Stockholm suburbia with New Mexico in the dead of winter. He also puts a lot of time into exploring the characters’ weaknesses and emotions.
Twelve-year-old Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is a social outcast subjected to bullying. Abby (Chloë Grace Moretz) is the new girl next door with an interesting past. As the two characters become friends, their respective backgrounds are revealed through the power of silence and minimalism. Abby ignites a confidence in Owen that sees him stand up for himself against the school bully and gain some self respect, while Owen teaches Abby the folly of youth.
Just as the two become comfortable, things get even more serious as Abby reveals her bloodsucking oddities and inability to be in the sunlight. The film is exceptional in that it never uses the word ‘vampire’ while it dances around certain stereotypes and further explores others. For instance, the film’s namesake is explored when Owen dares Abby to come into his home uninvited, resulting in a disturbing but touching scene focussing on her vulnerability. From this point onward, things progress toward their end becoming more gruesome and desperate. However, the film never loses sight of the emotional undercurrent.
The final scene is particularly worthy of note, using some excellent cinematography and careful camera angles to avoid tacky CGI (Computer Generated Imagery). The result hits the intended mark perfectly and leaves the viewer smiling and shivering at the same time.
The film is different enough from its Swedish cousin to be considered on its own merits. It is, at times, more faithful to Lindqvist’s novel than the original, and at others more of a departure. The American setting still feels very Scandinavian thanks to the ever present ice and snow so the appeal of the first film will not be lost on current fans. However, there is enough of a fresh viewpoint to ensure everyone walks away with something. To call it a vampire film or even a horror film (though the gore is not subtle) would cheapen the carefully crafted love story being told. Considering the average age of the actors, this is no small feat and should not be missed.