“Let Me In is the American adaptation of the brilliant Swedish horror film “Let The Right One In,” which was released at the tail end of 2008. This film followed a tortured twelve-year-old outcast named Oskar who finds companionship with another odd but agreeable girl Eli. Eli lives in an adjacent apartment and appears to be the only person that shows kindness toward Oskar. However, she is concealing the secret from him that she is a ravenous vampire. Yes, a real vampire. One that drinks HUMAN blood.
Judging from the fundamental storyline, one may expect it to be something of a “Twilight” knockoff. While it does share some minor parallels with that series, it is a massively stark contrast to the romance novel tone conveyed by “Twilight.” “Let The Right One In” was artfully executed, impeccably paced and included two vital things that “Twilight” lacked: down-to-earth yet deceptively complex characters and a realistic setting that made the supernatural seem believable. It all combined into a fantastic little cult flick whose impact still remains strong.
With this new film, the basic story remains intact with just a few minor tweaks in detail. Instead of being set in Sweden, it now takes place in a late wintery New Mexico circa 1983. The names have obviously been Americanized for the U.S. (because let’s face it; no child born in the states is named Oskar and very few females are named Eli). The boy is now named Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee, previously the young boy in “The Road”) and the girl is now Abby (Chloë Moretz, who achieved success earlier this year as Hit Girl in “Kick-Ass” ).
Owen is currently experiencing all the worst aspects of growing up. He is frequently bullied by a pack of much bigger kids, his parents are going through a difficult divorce and, most unfortunately, he does not have any real friends either in or out of school. Nobody to brighten his day or take his mind off everything going on around him. But one night, he notices Abby and an ominous older man that Owen is led to believe is her father (Richard Jenkins). While both of them are reluctant at the start to form any kind of friendship between each other (Abby even flat out says: “Just so you know, I can’t be your friend.”), the two continue to see each other and develop a stronger bond.
Interesting. What they are doing here is combining something of a coming-of-age story (transitioning from a child to a teenager) and a gloomy art-horror with vampires. Like the Swedish original, it does not abuse abundant amounts of jump scares and grotesque images to shock the viewer. Instead, what it really does is pensively build up tension and suspense so that the story can progress smoothly and effectively. The chilly setting itself probably contributes more to the horror atmosphere than any amount of violence or vampires can.
Comparing the original and this version side by side, they are very much similar to each other in both tone and dialogue. Even certain dialogue sequences are exactly as I remember them. The audience follows the film from the perspective of the two young protagonists. The movie in and of itself is less about vampire mythology as it is on being a child. The film explores the many struggles at this age, including loneliness, isolation, naivety, innocence and young love, and executes them rather well thanks to the delightful young performances of McPhee and Moretz.
While the final product does not have the bite that the original had, “Let Me In” remains more respectful toward its source material than any other horror remake of the year. Its unorthodox approach to vampires will probably not be as savory for U.S. audience (the title itself refers to a classic quality of vampires that most people will not catch right away), but Matt Reeves’s (Cloverfield) remake is intriguing in every sense and kept me thoroughly entertained despite my huge appreciation for the Swedish original. In this day and age when American filmmakers are notorious for dumbing down and oversaturating foreign film remakes, this one does the least amount of damage to its property.