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2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Romance is for the young., March 1, 2011
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This review is from: Let Me In (DVD)
Introduction: This is a film essay that is intended for only those people who have already seen the movie. There are some spoilers, so if you haven't seen the film yet, I suggest you quit reading this essay at once.
My intentions where to write something in the style of my all time favorite film commentary track, which exists in The Criterion addition of The Sam Pekinpah film Straw Dogs 1971. A scholar named Stephen Prince who specializes in violence in film gives what is in essence a master class on the subject while pointing out thousands of little subtleties playing beneath the narrative, the effect is simply brilliant. I feel that my film watching strengths also lie in observing such subtleties, and Let Me In is chock-full of them. The reason is that director Matt Reeves does not insult the intelligence of the viewer by trying to explain every little thing to them. At the same time he uses visual and character behavior to tell the story. This makes Let Me In a joy for the sophisticated movie watcher. For those of you who feel that my essay is self indulgent, I must remind you that self indulgence is simply self expression, and all I am really doing is working on sharpening my writing skills. I had submitted this review about three weeks ago without this introduction, but I noticed that some people didn't really understand what I was actually intending. I also removed two paragraphs that in hind sight where kind of like boulders in the flow of the stream. One was about the camera work in the scenes of violence, the other was about what a great expressive face Kodi Smit-McPhee has. Hopefully people will find this version of the film essay to be a bit easier to read. Regardless of how this is accepted, at least I will always know that I am proud of it. In the end that is what really matters, but I still secretly hope some of you enjoy this film essay anyway. Thank you.

Virginal Footprints in the snow,
Left there by a mysterious vision.
Came out of that black shape,
Like a black cape,
In answer to my invitation...

He might as well be on the moon.

The main character in Let Me In is a 12 year old by named Owen who lives alone with his mother in a low rent apartment complex. Since Owen is only a child, he lacks the developed ability to express the many levels of suffering and confusion he is currently feeling. Like Owen, the film hides most of its meaning beneath its narrative, suggesting many dark ideas without ever explaining any of them to the audience. Owen is a frail middle school student without a single friend in the world. He is a timid boy that is being systematically bullied by the toughest guys in his grade. Owen is often shown wearing this puffy metallic silver jacket that gives him the look of an astonaut, while in his bedroom, an entire wall is given over to a giant mural of the lunar surface. The implication is obvious, Owen might as well be on the moon himself. Even God and country have turned their backs on Owen. There is a rather subversive use of a Ronald Reagan speech in the opening section of the film in which the president is glorifying the supposed righteousness of all Americans simply for being born an American. This fallacy is echoed a few scenes later when Owen is shown reciting The Pledge of Allegiance in class. While the entire class is saying 'One nation under God' in unison, Owen is struck on the right arm by a giant spit ball right on th word 'God'. In a later scene, Owen tells his mother that he cut his face during a fall in the school playground, when in reality the alpha male bully Ken had whipped Owen across the cheek with a broken off radio antenna. Rather then do the parental work necessary to fully uncover the reality of her sons painful situation, his mother just tells Owen to be more careful next time and then immediately launches into the dinner prayer. In Owen's bleak world, God and country have become perverted insults that only further alienate him. Even when we do see his mother up close her face is all out of focus, the rest of the time she is always shown from a distance. This visual depiction matches her near nonexistent parenting. Even Owen's father is nothing more then a voice on the other end of the phone that fails miserably to listen to what Owen is so desperately trying to tell him. Though none of these institutional and parental failing are ever being discussed anywhere in the dialogue itself, the audience still picks up on them through these various clues. The sad truth that is being revealed to us shows that like every other institution in Owen's life, his parents have done nothing for him at all, except to continually let him down.

Owen with Abby colored eyes.

Despite his ineffectuality, Owen has still managed to get himself into some disturbingly unsavory activities. In an act of transference Owen is shown bullying his own reflection at knife point in his bedroom mirror while wearing a clear plastic old man mask. It is a wonderfully ambiguous visual choice that suggest a number of intriguing possibilities. By wearing this mask over his face, is Owen being something that he is not, or is he being something that he might become in the future? This moment is immediately fallowed by the creepy business of spying on his various neighbors with his bedroom telescope. Since Owen is both interested and overwhelmed by the mysteries of sex, he quickly focuses his spying upon his sultry neighbor Virginia who is in the very beginning of make up sex with her boyfriend. Virginia is a strikingly beautiful woman in her mid 20's and is clearly the object of most of Owen's sexual fantasies. These various elements are laid bare without any narrative explanation, but beyond this, an even more curios visual effect takes place. The light shining back into Owen's eyes through the elongated telescope almost matches Abby's ghastly white vampire irises when she is in the throws of a feeding frenzy. This is a most ingenious visual cue, because it is at this point that Abby makes her first appearance in the film. From his bedroom window, Owen watches Abby get out of the passanger side of a moving van, at first she appears to be nothing more then a black silhouette. Then from out of this darkness emerges this cloaked angelic figure who proceeds to lead the way through the snow in her bare feet, looking for all the world like a homeless squatter. She is being fallowed by a 60 year old man who is struggling mightily with an oversized trunk held awkwardly in both arms. Through Owen's eyes we see much that is not revealed within the narrative itself, the most striking of which is that this barefooted child vagabond appears to be in charge of the old man.

Abby, the enternal adolescent.

It becomes clear when you watch the interaction between Abby and the 60 year old man, that the old man is still very much in love with her. He hates to disappoint Abby and is clearly jealous of her seeing 'that boy'. Abby and this old man have been a couple for a very long time, and their scenes together eerily answer the eternal quesion of how long Abby remains passionate with her human provider. Though their current situation seems to be that of a passive aggressive marriage rather then a fervid love affair, one gets the feeling that they have remained actively affectionate with one another a lot longer then one would care to think. What is clear is that Abby no longer seems physically attracted to her current boyfriend.
Just how long Abby has been a vampire is never really answered in the film, but we do know that she has been with the old man since he was a preteen himself, which is close to 50 years. Yet despite being possibly houndreds of years old, Abby still acts like a 12 year old kid, for one thing, she seems either unable or unwilling to provide for herself independently. This would all be fine if it wasn't for the fact that people keep dying around Abby at such an alarming rate. From the clues I gathered from watching both versions of this story, I have come to the conclusion that on average 10 people have to die each month for Abby to live. It is also clear that it is her human provider who has to do all of the dirty work for her. This means that in all the years he has been with Abby, the old man has had to either kill or dispose of the bodies of roughly 6000 people.
Richard Jenkins who plays the old man in Let Me In is the person who came up with the idea of wearing a dark colored plastic trash bag over his head with cut out eye slits when he captures his victims. The visual effect is as horrifying as it is wickedly subversive. Whether aware of it or not, Richard Jenkins had made this character look exactly like a KKK member, only with an opposing color for the hood. The subversion digs even deeper in that Richard Jenkins is only shown killing white people in this film. Even his method of killing matches a KKK lynching exactly, except that much like the opposing color of his hood, his victims are strung up to a tree upside down by their ankles rather then right side up by their necks. From here he sets a large plastic jug with a funnel in its top underneath his strung up victim and then cuts their jugular to drain their life blood into this crude take home receptacle.
Seeing a Rubix Cube become the catalyst of Abby and Owen's courtship was a deeply satisfying moment for me, because I am someone who is able to solve the cube in under three mintues. It is in this scene that Abby decides to pursue Owen, yet even this apparent innocent budding romance can be looked at in a more sinister level. Abby just had a nasty fight with the old man who had returned home with an appetizer rather then a meal. During the arguement, the old man tells Abby that he has grown tired of killing and might be getting sloppy on purpose in order to get caught. This leaves the door wide open for debate as to whether Abby has really fallen in love with Owen, or whether this is just a set of calculated moves to manipulate Owen into thaking the old mans place on 'the day shift'.

Leopards can not change their spots.

If Owen's beautiful neighbor Virginia is his sex siren, then Abby is Owen's otherworldly virginal Goddess. Abby represents everything that is meaningful, eternal, nurturing, and magical in Owen's deficient existence. The contrast between these two feminine influences in Owen's life is greater emphasized by constantly showing Virginia in an ornamental subservient roll to her rugged boyfriend Larry. Not for one second do we ever see Abby in a subservient roll to anyone in this film. There is something ultimately twisted about Abby's attack on Virginia. Virginia is after all the object of Owen's lust. It is not just that The Madonna is killing The Whore in this scene, it is that Owen's Madonna is killing Owen's Whore. It only took being in close proximity of a few drops of Owen's blood for Abby to attack Virginia in such a state of uncontrollable animalistic bloodlust, that it makes her vampirism seem like some kind of unstoppable hormonal reaction to puberty. Like everything else in this film, the visceral nature of Virginia's attack also effects the viewer on a subconscious level due to its underlying symbolism. Abby leaps on Virginia from the top of a tree, and then bites into her throat immediately. This is the exact same method that a leopard utilizes when attacking an antelope in the wild. Virginia is also wearing a fur coat at the time of the attack which further depicts her as being a jungle cats prey. These visual choices makes the attack look just like something one would see on Wild Kingdom.
When Abby talks to Owen, her words carry the same kind of symbolic connotations. Everything Abby says can be taken as literal prophetic truth. When they first meet, Owen points at his bedroom window and nervously tells Abby where he lives. You can clearly see all the flustered emotion on his face. Owen is so instantaneously attracted to this mysterious cloaked little girl that he nearly falls apart in her presence. Instead of reciprocating his longing, Abby tells Owen that she can not be his friend. This is actually a much truer statement then we could have ever realized. When she tells Owen that if it comes down to it she will help him fight the bullies, she backs this statement up with all the force of an army. What this implies about her constant insistence to Owen that 'she is not a girl' and is in fact 'nothing', staggers the imagination. Was she making these statements simply because she is a vampire, or is she in fact implying that she has no sexual organs at all? If there is one thing we do know for sure about Abby, when she says something she generally more then means it.

Home is where you're currently living at the time.

There is a curios line of dialogue that forced me to examine whether it was a cinematic flaw that went unnoticed by the director. After Abby scales the outside of the hospital building, she taps on the window and asks her human provider if she can enter his hospital room. The old man is unable to speak due to the self inflicted acid burns on his face, so Abby has to remain outside in the cold. There is a scene a little later in this movie in which Abby proves her devotion to Owen by showing him what will happen to her if she enters his home uninvited. The scene sets a clear timeline for how long it takes for Abby to reveal her vampire nature involuntarily to an outsider. Within just 15 seconds, Abby begins to shake uncontrollably, then by half a minute blood starts to gush from all parts of her body at once. Owen ultimately proves his love for Abby by frantically granting her permission to be in his house. Owen then runs over and cradles Abby in his arms and asks if she would of died had he not of said anything. She replies.
"I knew you wouldn't let me."
Though this scene is remarkable for managing to be both moving and alarming at the same time, the problem with it is, is that we see Abby enter four other buildings uninvited. One location was the front reception desk of the hospital, another was a convenience store, then there was the apartment complex recreation room, and finally the indoor pool at the middle school in which she entered through the skylight to save Owen during the films climax. This paradox is one I am willing to concede with the simple excuse of 'home is where you are currently living at the time'. By being hospitalized in intensive care, that hospital room had become the surrogate home for the old man. Abby was now unable to enter this 'living space' without his permission.
Another potential problem was Owen's discovery of the photo booth pictures that showed Abby and the old man when he was a 12 year old boy himself. Since the events depicted in this film are shown to be taking place in 1983, this would mean that those photo booth pictures where taken some time in the mid 1930's. The question is, did photo booths even exist in 1935? What I found was that the photo booth was invented in 1889 by a man named Matthew Stiffens, and where later mass produced throughout America on March 27th 1927 by The Photomation Company. The discovery of the photo booth pictures not only checks out, but is astoundingly accurate. Due to the relative freshness of this national phenomena, taking a phto booth picture would have been a very popular thing to do in 1935.
If there is one clear error in the film that I am not willing to concede for any reason, it's the lack of proper police procedure demonstrated by the police sergeant. He had been finding bloodless bodies for several weeks, and had even witnessed Virginia burst into flames in her hospital bed when she was hit by the morning sunlight. Even his one and only suspect had fallen ten floors to his death after mysteriously being drained of blood himself. About the only clue he had left to go on was that a 12 year old girl was somehow tied to all this murder and death. The problem occurs when he hears the floorboards creak from inside of Abby's apartment. He quickly draws his fire arm, yells police, kicks down the door, stalks through the house for a good three minutes finding evidence of the murder victims, before eventually finding Abby sleeping in the bottom of the bath tub. Yet in all this time, he never does the one thing that any real cop would have done first thing before doing anything else...Call for back up. I really wish that the film would of shown the sergeant lose or break his police radio during the raid to fix this one trouble spot in the film, because the rest of the movie is damn near perfect.

Evil needs love too.

Once Abby decides to pursue Owen you will notice that she never takes her eyes off of him, unless it's to coyly look down in alluring shyness when the conversation borders on what makes her tick. In their very first scene together the audience becomes fully invested in seeing them end up as a couple. Yet as captivatingly beautiful as their romance is, Owen is eventually going to have to provide blood for Abby, and we already know what that entails. It is equally disturbing that she enters Owen's bedroom window like a succubus mere moments after she drained the blood out of her last long term partner. How subversive is it that thier bedroom conversation seems so tender and innocent when considering all the other implications? Out of the two movies, I definitely prefer how this moment was covered in Let The Right One In. I really miss the 'Bulleri bulleri bock' Swedish children's guessing game thing in which Eli has Oskar guess how many fingers she is tapping him with. I also wish that Abby would of caressed Owen's shoulder and arm the way that Eli caressed Oskar's in Let The Right One In. I find it weak that Owen was wearing a shirt in this scene, unlike Oskar who was shirtless and quit possibly naked. There is something ultimately dementedly satisfying about watching Eli indulge herself on touching the silky skin of her prey. The consolation for me is that there are two fantastic versions of the same tale, and I just happen to be wise enough to love both of them equally for the different strengths that they bring to the table.
Even though the viewer can interpret the subtleties in this film many different ways, I still believe that Abby has ultimately fallen in love with Owen. Why else would she have offered to eat his human candy when she knew it would make her choke? There is a real attraction that Abby feels for Owen that goes far beyond necessity. However, it is still so disastrously sad that Abby isn't going to turn Owen into a vampire and stay with him forever. The real tragedy of this story is that Owen is going to grow old on Abby and eventually outlive his usefulness. Maybe that is how her evil really works. For unlike Owen's parents, school, God, or country, Abby is never going to let Owen down. This is the whole essence of the story. For once in his miserable little life, someone is actaully willing to do what ever it takes to make him feel like he actually matters. Unfortunately for Owen, that someone just happens to be a living dead monster. But in the end, who could really blame Owen for loving Abby? When you really consider the amazing way in which she rescues him at the end of the film, there really is no Earthly reason for him to look back at all. As for Abby, who could blame her for loving Owen?...After all, romance is for the young, and evil needs love too.
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Showing 1-3 of 3 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Mar 28, 2011, 9:38:17 AM PDT
Excellent review, Paul, the best one there for this film - good work...

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 28, 2011, 11:34:42 AM PDT
Paul Aragon says:
Thank you! thank you! Thank you!

I poured my heart into this one. This means a lot.

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 13, 2011, 2:21:03 PM PDT
AP says:
you obviously love this film...
i recently saw it.
and i appreciate your commentary, do you have more?
im curious on your thoughts on the movie title...i know im probably reaching here...but is there a connection to possibly Abby saying that to get into Owen's soul? his heart?

also, what are your thougths on seeing the policeman's body shoved up in a crack in the basement...obviously Owen had to have done it...so to me, thats the first key that he's cool with this set up.

and why do you think Abby doesnt want to turn Owen? that would be a sweet tag team. maybe she doesnt want his soul to be dead?
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