The Blog Lagoon’s 31 Days of Halloween, Day 1: “Let Me In” (2010) Feature Review

LET ME IN (2010)
Improbable as it sounds, Let Me In manages to be inferior to its source material (Swedish author John Ajvide Lindqvist’s 2004 book and the 2008 Swedish film of the same name) and the best American vampire movie in at least 20 years. If that sounds like faint praise, it kind of is. In fact, are you as hard pressed as I to think of one really good vampire movie made since, say, George Romero’s Martin (1977)? Fright Night (1985) and Near Dark (1987) still hold up, but seriously–I was 12. Years later, and what do we have to show for it? Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)? The Lost Boys (1987)…which, I’m sorry, is as overrated by my generation as Grease. Even mediocre vampire movies like Interview with the Vampire (1994), and From Dusk Til Dawn (1996) –which barely even registers as a movie about vampires— are hard to come by. Some might try to steer me toward indie titles like The Addiction (1995) and Nadja (1994), but as far as I’m concerned you can file both of those under P for Pretentious Crap.

On the other hand; if you want lazy, hacky, derivative, glossy, clichéd, straight-to-DVD, or (God help us) sparkly vampire flicks –We got ’em! (I shamelessly concede that Embrace of the Vampire (1995) gets a pass because Who’s-The-Boss-heartbreaker Samantha Micelli has several lengthy, well-lit nude scenes.) If you think I’m wrong, pipe up with any superior vampire titles you can think of, because I’ve scoured this list  several times but my eyes keeping tripping over titles like Blade and VanHelsing. ( This title, however, definitely shows promise!)

So the bar for modern vampire movies is so low, the only one limboing under it is the asian contortionist from Ocean’s Eleven. That alone is enough to give LMI a massive advantage over most horror, and it’s obviously the reason LtROI was such a well-received DVD sleeper in the states. But you know ol’ Mr. and Mrs. USA-ADD-LCD. I worked in a small town video store long enough to know that those foreigny movies where nobody speaks American, and the dialogue must be (horrors!) read, get returned faster than you can say “But this IS the American version of Inglorious Basterds.” Like Eddie Izzard observed, a European movie that does any bit of business across the pond, must be remade here. (“So movies like Room with a View become Room with a View…OF HELL! “)

On the topic of horror movie remakes–I generally don’t have a problem with them. If any genre produces more movies that lend themselves to a little sprucing up, I’d like to know what it is. Sure, if you futz around with the classics, more often than not you’re going to end up looking like an ass. (case in point: Rob Zombie’s Halloween – a movie so ill-conceived, grating and disrespectful that I can hardly shut up about it. And I’m pretty sure the general consensus on Gus VanSant’s ultra-literal Psycho remake is unanimous.) But every once in a while a Dawn of the Dead (2004) or The Fly (1986) saunters up the gravel road to my black, black heart and not only justifies its existence, but betters its inspiration. More often, though, a remake serves as an interesting experiment, where a fresh take on an old favorite offers its own delights. I’d say John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003), Last House on the Left (2009), and the 2006 update of Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes, fall into this category. And who’s to say someone shouldn’t be able to take a crack at titles like My Bloody Valentine, House on Sorority Row, or Pirhana? Some horror movies have a germ of a great premise but come across as dated or cheesy when lifted from the context of their decade. In those cases, why NOT do a remake?

What seemed to draw the ire of LtROI fans is that the original is only two years old. Some believe it to be perfect beyond reproach and in no need of an alternate interpretation. I mostly agree and didn’t expect a new LtROI to be much better than most American remakes of Japanese horror titles, like The Grudge and The Eye (…which is to say: I expected it to be…not great.) The online trailers seemed promising, but also looked as though we might end up with an unimaginative shot-for-shot remake–the equivalent of spending the budget of an entire feature to basically re-dub the original. Luckily, director Matt Reeves (Cloverfield) seems to understand that Americanized doesn’t have to mean bigger, louder, and stupider. When all is said and done, there’s not so much that he bothers changing with LMI. It’s still the story of a bullied 12-year old boy and the unconventional relationship he forms with the little girl next door who, as it turns out, needs blood “…or I die.”  This time, though, the little boy is Owen (instead of Oscar) and the little girl is Abby (instead of Eli). Naturally the location for the story is moved; from Sweden to New Mexico. While it’s expected that an Americanized movie would take place state-side, some of the desolate isolation of a small snow-bound Swedish town that worked so well in the book and Swedish movie, seems lost here. I could do a lot more nitpicking like that, but it wouldn’t really be fair if I’m to judge LMI on its own terms. The bottom line is that most any discerning horror fan unaware of LtROI‘s existence would probably herald LMI as revolutionary.

For one thing, it’s got solid casting. I expect finding young actors to fill the shoes of Oscar and Eli could be a casting director’s nightmare, but Kodi Smit-McPhee and Chloe Moretz (Hit Girl from the disappointing Kick-Ass) nail it and bring something a little different to the story with their well-tuned performances. Regrettably, Moretz may find herself type-cast as a Killer Loli due to her last two roles, but she really is damn good here and has more to do than look a-dor-a-bul cracking wise and dropping f-bombs. Smit-McPhee has the porceline features of a Precious Moments figurine dipped in molten pre-teen angst, with soulful brooding eyes that make him sympathetic, pitiable and more than a little creepy in his own right.

The brief story sketch (for all three versions): Abby and what appears to be a much older father-figure (Six Feet Under’s Richard Jenkins, who I wish had a better defined role here) move into the same apartment complex as Owen and his distracted, soon-to-be-divorced mother. Owen’s bedroom wall is shared on one side by Abby, and after a few brief “meet-cute” “meet-weird” nighttime rendezvous on a snowy jungle gym, the two become chums that tap morse-code messages to one another from their respective rooms. Owen even teaches Old-Soul Abby about the joys of Now n’ Laters and Rubix Cubes (Oh, right — did I mention this takes place in 1983? Because this movie takes place in 1983 and the music cues certainly don’t want you to forget, as they beat you over the head with enough Greg Kihn, David Bowie, and Culture Club to fill a zillion VH1 specials. Okay! 1983! We get it!)

Can puppy creature-of-the-night love be far behind? You know it!

After some sweet smiles and innocent hand touching, Runty Odd Owen asks Old Soul Abby to be his girlfriend. “But I’m not a girl,” says Abby. “I’m nothing.”Welllll, not exactly. In the book Abby (/Eli) was once a BOY–violently emasculated as a child. You get a glimpse of that dark back story in the book which goes into greater detail via a series of flashbacks that illustrate the origin of Eli’s androgyny and blood thirst. In this version, however, “I’m nothing” seems to simply mean “I’m a vampire.” It’s a detail that the new version can spare though. Cutting that much doesn’t really interfere with the narrative and prevents the audience from getting bogged down in unnecessary exposition.

It doesn’t take long for Owen to put two (dead neighbors) and two (dead schoolmates) together and figure out that Abby is the culprit responsible for the bloody deaths of several locals. The blood she’s often soaked in was probably another tip-off. But she has a tender side too! A get-naked-under-the-covers-and-cuddle tender side that has Owen irreversibly smitten. Even after a botched blood-brother-style pact goes horribly wrong (and ends with little Abby lapping up Owen’s blood from a dirty basement floor), Owen finds it within himself to get over it and accept the fact that his girlfriend is… the undead. Their bond is strengthened further by Abby’s bully-busting pep talk which inspires Owen to stand up to his primary aggressor; an action that will eventually make MORE trouble for him, despite the satisfaction this particular scene brings.

At its core LMI (like both Swedish counterparts) is a bittersweet, well-crafted young-love story (Here is a good place to mention that this movie beats you over the head with Romeo and Juliet references too.), despite all of the horror movie trappings. And let me be clear…there are plenty of those: acid-burned faces, bungled bloodlettings, bobcat-like Abby attacks, and a graphic look at the real damage a little ray of sunshine can do to a newbie-nosferatu (-a great scene, and one that out-does the Swede version).

Some moments are lifted directly from the Swedish movie, and some moments beautifully recreate scenes from the book that are absent in that previous film. (For fans of the original, I’m sorry to report that you won’t find that crazy CGI-kitty attack scene here.) All-in-all both the Swedish and American versions of LtROI have their own selling points while seamlessly existing in the same recognizable universe. That universe has a cold but elegant aesthetic and a sweet but mournful tone, sprinkled with a few well-placed shocks. Is LMI a perfect movie? No. A perfect vampire movie? Well, it’s probably the closest thing we’ll see for a while.
*** (3 stars out of 4)

Watch the trailer:

~ by Number5ive on October 1, 2010.

2 Responses to “The Blog Lagoon’s 31 Days of Halloween, Day 1: “Let Me In” (2010) Feature Review”

  1. Sr., I loved this review and look forward to the 31 days of Halloween.

  2. I agree with you on the good casting and the unnecessary shaky CGI from who else but the guy that did Cloverfield. If you’re interested, you can read my review from a couple days ago. I’m reviewing vampire flicks all this week.

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