on January 23, 2011
It was with some amount of trepidation that I first heard about the impending release of Let Me In. Like many others, I was quite taken by the original Swedish film, Let the Right One In, which easily secured a spot on my Top 10 of that year. I feared that a remake would only excise the poetic nature of the story in favor of a by-the-numbers vampire film. The attachment of Matt Reeves as writer and director didn't do much to assuage my fears. Cloverfield was entertaining enough for what it was, but its gimmicky shaky-cam aesthetic wasn't very indicative of his directorial abilities. Once the good reviews of the film started pouring in, I figured I'd see it just to say that I did and then forget about its existence shortly thereafter.
Could I possibly have been more wrong? I ultimately saw the film five times during its brief theatrical run. It's been three months since then, and I still can't stop thinking about it. Never before has my reaction to a film been so contrary to my preconceived notions. Not only do I prefer the remake, it has fast become one of my all-time favorite films, and Matt Reeves has shot to the top of my "directors to watch" list. While there is much that can be said for how Let Me In compares to its Swedish counterpart, I'm going to try and keep comparisons to a minimum, because Let Me In stands firmly on its own two feet as a film. The wonderful thing is that one film doesn't have to supplant the other; Let the Right One In is a beautiful film in its own right, and Let Me In is another faithful and unique cinematic take on the same story.
The story in question originally comes from the mind of Swedish author John Ajvide Lindqvist, who wrote the original film as well as the novel that inspired it. The plot revolves around a lonely 12-year-old boy who is bullied mercilessly at school and finds solace in his budding relationship with the girl who lives next door. Unbeknownst to him, the girl also happens to be a blood-thirsty vampire who has been 12-years-old for a very long time. Reeves' adaptation of the material is respectful, thoughtful, and personal. In rendering his version of the story, he draws on the overall structure of the original film, various details from the original novel, as well as some of his own ideas and experiences growing up. Reeves clearly has a firm grasp on the complexities of the material, and he crafts Let Me In as a poignant coming-of-age story, tender love story, and chilling horror story all at once. By thoughtfully transplanting the proceedings to 1980s Regan America, Reeves uses the sociopolitical context of that era as a backdrop for Owen's tortured adolescence, resulting in a subtle exploration of moral ambiguity and duality. Despite its fantastical elements, at its core, Let Me In tackles fundamental human needs - the need to connect, the need to survive, and the need to make sense of a sometimes cold and frightening world. Whereas most modern horror films rely on excessive gore as a substitute for intelligence, Let Me In is one of the select few that brilliantly utilizes its horror premise as a multi-layered metaphor to explore a variety of thought-provoking ideas.
While Reeves' screenplay adaptation is impressive in its own right, his directorial style is just as powerful and artistic. Simply put, Let Me In is one of the most elegantly directed horror films I've had the pleasure of watching in a really long time. Reeves' controlled and careful direction is a revelation in today's frenetic cinematic world. Let Me In is one of those rare films where virtually every shot helps reveal character and drive the narrative forward. Reeves is clearly an ardent admirer of Alfred Hitchcock, and his point-of-view driven visual storytelling does an admirable job of cementing the audience in the perspective of the central characters. Furthermore, he injects his film with a sense of dread and tension that would have made the Master of Suspense proud. Between Reeves' crafted cinematic approach and his cinematographer's haunting gothic visual palette, Let Me In is a breathtaking and beautiful film to behold.
Finally, a discussion of Let Me In's strong suits isn't complete without addressing the power of its two lead performances. Kodi Smit-McPhee and Chloe Grace Moretz may have only been 12-years-old at the time of filming, but their performances exude a sense of depth and maturity far beyond their years. Let Me In may revolve around two children, but it is a dark and complex film for adults, and the fact that McPhee and Moretz are able to shoulder the weight of the film with such a sense of grace speaks volumes for their talent as actors. Richard Jenkins and Elias Koteas turn in excellent supporting performances, but the central story of Let Me In lives or dies by the success of its two leads, and McPhee and Moretz play a huge part in making Let Me In the emotionally charged film that it is.
Although it didn't do nearly as well as it should have at the box office, Let Me In deserves to find a larger audience on DVD and Blu-ray. It's a rare and precious gem that got unfairly swept aside in the chaotic rush of awards season, despite its strong critical reception. In a cinematic climate where countless films are created solely to cash in and make money, it comes as a startling surprise that such a moving, layered, and crafted piece of cinema would come in the form of a remake. And yet, Let Me In is all of these things and more. Anyone who likes their films to have equal doses of artistry, emotion, and intelligence owes it to themselves to pick up a copy of Let Me In. Don't let the genre deter you; it's not just an amazing horror film, it's not just an amazing remake, it's an amazing film, period.