Itís clear from watching Let Me In that director Matt Reeves truly loves and respects the 2008 Swedish film Let the Right One In, which is also based on the same 2004 novel by Ajvide Lindqvist. But respect is a tricky thing and taken too far, respect turns into reverence. Then reverence in turn becomes fear, a fear that by altering something which is already good you may in some way diminish it. That kind of fear can be paralyzing and as a director Matt Reeves seems paralyzed. Reeves respects Let the Right One In perhaps a little too much and though he claims that his film is based on the novel and is not in fact a remake of the cult hit Swedish film, the movie heís made says otherwise. The movie heís made is absolutely a direct remake of the 2008 film, the two are so similar that itís almost impossible to differentiate between them. Reevesí take is masterfully well done, but itís not because heís put his own stamp on it. Let Me In is good because Let the Right One In is good, and Reeves simply made the same film, only slightly better. Theyíre nearly identical, right down to their bones.
Even the setting is the same. Though thereís some attempt to establish the time and place as distinctly American, the occasional Ronald Reagan television address feels half-hearted. The snow covered, cramped housing could just as easily be Sweden. Yet in theory the movie takes place in 1983 at a Los Alamos, New Mexico apartment complex where a 12-year-old boy named Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee) lives with his mother and struggles with the problems of school, bullies, and his parentsí recent divorce. A new girl named Abby (Chloe Moretz) moves in next door. In appearance sheís 12 but we soon find out that sheís much, much older. She lives with a man who appears to be her father, but we suspect is anything but. At night The Father, played brilliantly by a worn and depleted Richard Jenkins, leaves Abby home alone while he finds a way to feed her. Unfortunately for him, Abby only eats blood.
The Father is one of the biggest changes in Reevesí take on this story and Jenkinsí moments are some of the best seen on screen this year. Though he barely speaks in his all too few moments on screen, Jenkins conveys a sense of weariness and affection with the shrug of his shoulders. His killing scenes convey an internal struggle, the sense that though heís long since resigned himself to his fate, he still feels guilty about it. One of his murders in particular will stick with you, haunt you long after the filmís over, set to the eerie soundtrack of a blaring car radio.
Owen befriends Abby and begins to suspect somethingís not right about her, but heís desperate for friendship. His parentsí divorce has left him isolated and at school heís being physically assaulted by a gang of kids. This is a boy so desperate for companionship itís easy to understand why he might not mind if the girl whoís hanging out with him is actually a vampire. In Abby Owen believes heís found a kindred spirit, and the blood on her face, to him itís almost as though it isnít real.
Visually Reeves has taken the glossy, dark style of the original movie and kept it, while adding a few of his own tricks. He plays with his camera more, films behind objects, blurs things in the background to increase the feeling of alienation we sense from Owen. Let Me In is a stunningly beautiful film and if thereís criticism to be level here, itís only that Reeves didnít take it further by abandoning the visual style and tone of Let the Right One In entirely, to make it fully his own.
In truth, even as someone whoís seen and loved the original movie, almost all of Let Me Inís best moments are the ones which skew farthest from the way Let the Right One In did it. The scant handful of changes Reevesí makes to the story and tone of his movie are innovative and interesting, yet all too rare. Thereís an even better movie buried underneath this already good movie, a film in which the director abandons his reverence for what came before and makes something wholly original.
Still, I suppose simply producing a faithful recreation of something so challenging and subtle is a real accomplishment. Reeves gets amazing performances from his child actors and successfully establishes a haunting, introspective tone. The fact that theyíve refused to dumb this story down is worthy of praise. Sure, thereís the sense while youíre watching it that maybe Let Me In wishes it had found a way to tell a bigger story, a story about growing up in the 80s, a story about human connections. It never quite gets there. Instead itís simply a good story told extremely well. If you havenít seen that other movie this will be a revelation. If you have seen and loved that other film youíll walk away unsurprised but ultimately happy that they had the sense not ruin it, if not the courage to significantly improve upon it. Let Me In may not be its own movie, but itís good just the same.
Reviewed By: Josh Tyler