Friday, February 25, 2011

Let Me In (2010) Remake Done Right

Maybe...maybe remakes have gotten taken a few too many blows to the head.

Maybe some of us, especially those of us who study film or have discerning film tastes have been too harsh on remakes. After all, not all remakes have been eye-rolling groaners. I mean, sure, once you've seen the original French Martyrs, the resulting facepalm upon hearing news of an American remake is perfectly natural. But look at 2004's remake of Dawn of the Dead. That was good. That was very good. And, hey, 2008's remake of The Crazies was also really quite good.

I think a lot of us don't want the original experience of a film - especially a beloved classic or a visceral, gut-punching breakthrough - to be diluted or, worse yet, dumbed down. We fear the home-cooked recipe will be processed to death.

2010's Let Me In, a remake of 2008's Swedish original, Låt den rätte komma in (aka Let The Right One In) is really another adaptation of Swedish author John Ajvide Lindqvist's novel of the same name. Writer/director Matt Reeves (Cloverfield) carefully crafted an equally beautiful film that even with some significant changes, doesn't dumb down the first film's unique outlook. The changes from the first film are pretty noticeable, but they work, and that's what counts.

The story is pretty much the same: in early-80's New Mexico, troubled and bullied Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee) lives a bleak and constantly frightened existence with his mother (Carla Buono, whose face we never see) at an apartment complex. Mysterious new neighbor Abby (Chloë Moretz of Kick-Ass) moves in with what appears to be her father (Richard Jenkins). The two loners become friends, despite Abby's strange behavior and the scary voices coming from her apartment. The "father" sets out at night to attack local young men and drain them of their blood for Abby, but age - and possibly a lack of motivation - is catching up with him. He becomes sloppy, and in one case, fatally careless when he's involved in an accident and is forced to disfigure himself with acid. A police detective (Elias Koteas) begins putting the pieces together of this strange case after the "father" throws himself out of a hospital window.

Meanwhile, Owen and Abby's relationship grows in parallel with the increasing brutality of the bullies' attacks on Owen. Owen, on advice from Abby, finally stands up to the bullies, splitting the leader's ear with a pole during a skating session on a nearby lake. At that point, a jogger that Abby had fed on turns up in the same lake, adding more pieces for the detective. When Owen tries to make a blood pact with Abby, she reverts to vampire form and runs away, attacking another neighbor in the complex before being chased off. Much like in the first film, this woman survives long enough to turn into a vampire herself before the morning sun hits her in the hospital and she bursts into flame.

The detective finally figures it out and pursues Abby in her apartment, but makes the cardinal error of waking up a sleeping vampire. After feeding, Abby tells Owen she has to leave, sending him into a deep sadness - his first true love is a vampire and has now run away. Those are some deep issues, kid.

The climax is similar to the original, enough that you know what's about to happen if you've seen the first, yet you're still glued to it to see how it will be done. It's very much the same, and it's done well. The ending shot is also very much the same, but none of the sweetness is lost.

Yeah, it's a remake. Yeah, it's got a lot of the same elements and some things have been altered. Doesn't make this a bad film. In fact, this movie is very good. That same atmosphere, the haunting nighttime of winter in New Mexico, the old trappings of the 1980's, the slow and deliberate way Owen and Abby's scenes unfold - it's all there, and done quite well in Reeve's hands. One of the biggest changes - a revelation about Eli in the first film - isn't present with Abby in this one. That was a big element in the Swedish version, but its absence here doesn't take a single thing away. I won't spoil what it is here, but once you've seen both movies, you'll know.

Smit-McPhee and Moretz are absolutely fantastic in their lead roles. Each exudes a serious vulnerability that is vital to the story. Their chemistry is perfect: they are two innocents at heart (even though one has to guzzle blood to survive). Reeves has crafted a movie here, not just churned one out. It looks good, it's haunting, it's heartbreaking, and as remakes go, it's right there at the top of ones done right.

So, until next time, my fellow survivors, see Let Me In. Until you get your mitts on it, though, here's the nice little trailer:


  1. Depending on if you've seen the original first, you make a judgement on this film. I'd like to talk to somebody who's only seen Let Me In and hear what they thought.

  2. That is a great point, and I should have referenced it: that many who have seen this movie have already seen the original.

    I do have a couple friends who saw it recently and found it either confusing or slow, but that it looked really good and the leads' acting was top-notch.

    I find it very interesting in this culture of remakes that in talking with several who have seen both, I've encountered several who have high praise for the remake.