WARNING: REVIEW MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS
Hollywood is really pushing for English language remakes of foreign language originals, particularly those of a Swedish origin. Coming up we have a Fincher retooling of Stiegg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy starting with The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Here we have writer/director Matt Reeves’ retelling of the brilliant Swedish vampire film Let the Right One In, retitled to Let Me In.
The track record for Hollywood remakes of foreign language horror films is not great, in fact it’s pretty dire, from Gore Verbinski’s soulless version of The Ring to the horrid Quarantine. What is sad to say is that Let Me In looked like it could do something different with that material and make it fresh for a new audience who missed the original. In fact it is along with the other remakes of foreign language horror, it is fairly poor in its own right and bad in comparison to the original.
Shifted from the cold, urban locations of Sweden to the winter time of New Mexico, the story is of bullied, lonely Owen who spends a lot of his time locked away in his room, spying upon his neighbours or sitting out on his duplex’s jungle gym, eating sweets or fiddling with puzzles. Moving in next door to him is the enigmatic Abby, who despite the harsh cold wears nothing on her feet. During the night Owen hears rows between Abby and her ‘father’, who acts very suspiciously. We soon discover that Abby has been 12 for a very long time and is in fact a vampire, using her ‘father’ to routinely go out to collect blood for her.
The brilliance of the original was that it was a very subtle and linear film, with a discreet poignancy to it, it told the story of the relationship between those two kids and nothing else. Nothing else was important. Here it is very different, despite Reeves wanting to explore similar themes and tell essentially the same story, there is a lack of focus with the child’s story. Reeves brings in a detective storyline, more of Eli’s backstory and makes the vampire element far more obvious, the result is something more confused. It’s not sure which story it wants to tell, whether it is rites of passage or a thriller, subsequently it’s neither. It’s not exciting and neither is it moving.
Reeves appears to have put the police officer in to make the film different to the original, he essentially replaces the drunken neighbours which were so crucial to the social commentary of the original, and were eloquently woven into the main story. Despite Elias Koteas being very good as the police officer, he’s doing his best with a role which isn’t really needed and in fact any editor would have taken out.
Everything that is similar to the original, with one exception, has been downgraded, yes even the much acclaimed performances of Chloe Moretz and Kodi Smit-McPhee aren’t as brilliant as they have been held up to be. Both are good in their roles, Moretz is sufficiently chilly as Abby and gives a quite unnerving performance although I never really felt she was as dangerous as Eli in the original film.
McPhee is very good at playing the lonely child as we’ve seen from The Road, but we never feel the full impact of his loneliness, we just see him being humiliated a couple of times and spying on his neighbours. There is one great emotional scene where he speaks to his dad over the phone, who has moved away, while only brief, it is the closest the film gets to giving a subtlety to lives of these characters without blatantly showing it on screen.
Together however there is a significant lack of chemistry based on the fact that there is less screen time than the original, also I didn’t buy the central relationship between them mainly because the erratic change in emotion and some very short exchanges between one another. At their first meeting on the jungle gym, she asks what he is doing, he responds, then she tells him they can’t be friends and leaves. It felt nothing more than a 30 second scene, yet to make that scene work there has to be more chemistry there before or more detail put behind their respective loneliness.
What is also very different is the sexual undercurrent to it, which instead of being uncomfortable just ends up being creepy. Despite the fact that it removes what is arguably the most graphic shot of the original, much is hinted that Abby is a castrated boy, and because that shot is removed she has to outwardly say: ‘I’m not a girl’. Which passes off not in a good way. The extended relationship with Abby’s ‘father’ is also very much brought to the fore in the remake, Reeves being much more obvious with the paedophilic relationship they have.
This is barely a part of the original, but is something Reeves is interested in exploring here, and I have to say went into some unneeded territory. Despite the obviousness of it, Reeves feels the need to insert little drips of unneeded backstory such as photographs of both Abby and her ‘father’ but when he was much younger, showing the length of their relationship and almost justifying what they have now.
What is even more strange is that the tension between Abby and Owen is oddly sexual rather than loving, he says to her ‘we can go steady’ if I remember correctly while she is completely naked lying next to him. If you can let that slide, then at that moment you buy that Owen and Abby have a relationship based on love, and to make that clear to us they are star crossed lovers, Owen just happens to mention in passing he is studying Romeo and Juliet in school.
Reeves also makes it far more obvious that Abby is a vampire by adding some exceedingly ropey CGI effects. The worst of them being making Abby’s eyes and face turn a different colour whilst she feeds on others. Why? Because they thought it looked cool? Or because they feel compelled to make it clearer that she was a vampire? In which case, on both counts its pointless. There is also some hideous speeding up of her character when she turns vampiric that is very wobbly and could have been done much, much better. I don’t see the point in trying to do CGI without the audience being aware of the seams. There are very few effects shots in the movie, couldn’t they have taken more time to improve them?
Other niggling issues concern Owen’s bullies, who aren’t nearly as threatening and vindictive as they were in Let the Right One In, we only seem to identify this bully as bad for the simple reason that he says ‘fuck’ a few times. Also the gore, which is cranked up much more to no real effect and is there simply to be holding out for some extra blood splatter, I’m a huge horror fan but really?
However as mentioned there is one element which is if not on a par with the original is in fact superior. One of my favourite actors Richard Jenkins, plays the role of the ‘Father’ and he in this version is better than the guy in the Swedish version. A much more stoic and bruised performance, his screen time is noticeably small, the amount it should be and he is given about 5 lines of dialogue to read.
Everything Jenkins does turns into pure gold, he can lift the most mediocre of scripts and get the best out of it, as the Father he looks like a man who has truly been through more than he can handle. The haggard appearance and the way he holds himself suggests a tiredness and worn out length of life which for him hasn’t been pleasant. Resorted to murder and held hostage by a vampire clearly taking its toll, Jenkins pulls it off marvellously.
He has undeniable respect for both the original film and book but Reeves biggest mistake in reimagining Lindqvist’s novel for an American audience is that he has tried to make everything more obvious and play it up to the audience so they don’t miss anything when he didn’t need to. A lot of the subtlety and nuance is crucially missing, and its nowhere near as good as the original and only improves upon one thing, making it as a film entirely pointless. The only reason for its existence is so it can bring your attention to the true masterpiece which was the original Let the Right One In.
Let Me In was released on October 15th, 2010