Let Me In

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Friday October 1, 2010

Chloe Moretz stars in Let Me In
Chloe Moretz stars in Let Me In  (Source:Overture Films)

It's 1983 or thereabouts, the year of David Bowie's hit single "Let's Dance" and the same year the Thin White Duke co-starred in the lesbian vampire flick The Hunger with Catherine Deneuve and Susan Sarandon.

But the vampire in Let Me In, which is the American remake of a Swedish film called Let the Right One In, is no buxom Deneuve. She's a 12-year-old girl called Abby (Chloë Grace Moretz, as coolly deadly here as she was in Kick-Ass), and she's just moved in next door to a bullied boy named Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee), who lives in an apartment complex in Los Alamos, New Mexico.

Owen's troubles stem not just with the tough kids at school, but also from his life at home, where his mother--drunk on religion and booze--neglects him. She's such a provisional presence in his life (will she be sober? Will she even be home?) that the camera never gets much of a look at her. As for Dad, well, at best he's a voice on the other end of the phone--and even then, he's more interested in belittling Mom than in listening to his son's problems.

Owen carries a small knife to school, dreaming of having the guts to stand up to the bullies. In his lonely hours alone, he spies on people in the apartment complex; as he gazes through his telescope, light through the lenses brings a glow--strange, feral--into his eye, very much like the pale light that steals into Abby's eyes when the scent of blood has brought her savage impulses close to the surface. This seems to be shorthand for the film's somber assessment that Owen and Abby have something in common: a detachment, a dissatisfaction--a hunger of their own, not only for blood or revenge, but for companionship and understanding.

The Matt Reeves remake follows the story with fidelity where it needs to, but departs from the Swedish original in a few key respects. Abby depends on her "father," played by Richard Jenkins, to go our and get her human blood to live on; Reeves doesn't wince when it comes time to show the puncturing of a neck and the deluge of blood pouring into a funnel. The Swedish film shied away from showing too much gore unless it really mattered, but Reeves knows that his American audience needs its cinematic meat little more red and raw; he lingers on an acid-eaten face and allows a shredded ear more screen time, and more clinical detail, than Let the Right One In director Tomas Alfredson did.

But Reeves is careful not to allow the blood to washing away the film's subtler, and far creepier, elements, even if he does take a half-step back from what was, in the original, a worrisome tendency in Owen (he was called Oskar in the Swedish film) to contemplate schoolyard frenzies. He also avoids stepping over any lines when it comes to the not-quite-sexual connection his young protagonists make; as in the original film, Owen and Abby share a bed in one scene, with her naked and freezing cold and worried that Owen might find her "gross." But Reeves doesn't dare venture further and take a quick, shocking peek at Abby's sexless, not-quite-human anatomy, the way that Alfredson did. (Abby might not be "a girl," as she points out to Owen when he wants to "go steady," but there are laws about that sort of thing in this country, and they don't parse quite so finely as to make the distinction between your everyday 12-year-old and your blood-sucking fiend.)

There are other changes, too. Reeves employs a flashback device for part of the film, and he uses a police officer in place of a nosy neighbor to put the heat on the kids. But he keeps the movie's core temperature chilly--just as Alfredson did for the original film. Snow whirls, and people fight and hate one another--and even love one another--with a kind of iciness, rather than a hot-blooded passion. Isolation and endless winter: that's the climate here, and if Owen and Abby are both essentially monsters (as perhaps everyone is--the movie's most resonant theme is that of the beast within us), maybe desert expanse and a fresh layer of snow is the only thing that contains the violence they inflict, and the violence they endure.

Reeves has done that rare and splendid thing: he's remade a movie in a way that's not necessarily better than the original--but it is better for its intended audience. This is the version of Let the Right One In to which American filmgoers will open up their doors.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.