Let Me In, 2010.
Directed by Matt Reeves.
Starring Kodi Smit-McPhee, Chloë Moretz, Richard Jenkins, Elias Koteas and Cara Buono.
A lonely twelve-year old boy befriends his new neighbour and soon has to confront the reality that the seemingly innocent young girl is actually a savage vampire responsible for a string of murders in the town.
[Warning... here be spoilers]
For those who are not aware, Let Me In is an adaptation of the Swedish novel Låt den rätta komma in by John Ajvide Lindqvist, directed by Matt “Cloverfield” Reeves and starring Chloë Moretz, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Elias Kosteas and Richard Jenkins. It tells the story of 12-year-old Owen (Smit-McPhee), a lonely boy who gets bullied daily at school. When a girl moves in next door, he tries to befriend her. But she is no ordinary girl – she “needs blood to survive”.
This is not the first time the public has been exposed to this exact story. The Swedish version (Let The Right One In) was released in 2008 and has been critically acclaimed all over the world. Considering the two films are released so closely together, it is a difficult task to not compare the two. Seeing how similar they are even by the look of the trailers, it is almost inevitable not to refer to Let The Right One In during this review.
Let Me In commences in the middle of the narrative, in a time-wasting flash-forward scene. There seems to be no motivation for its use than to capture the audience instantly. A simple chronological flow would have created a tenser build-up and thus would have been more efficient.
The whole setting is very American. From the opening sequence in the hospital, we see and hear ex-president Ronald Reagan in the background appearing on TV. His presence dominates the beginning of the film. His speech about evil and sainthood in society presents and sums up the key points we are introduced to in the sequence: something wicked this way comes.
Setting it in the 1980s also works well, thanks to the costumes and set design. The detail reeks of personality. Every little thing from the ornaments in the house to the outfits (particularly Owen’s – he look like his mum dressed him) is great.
Owen’s character is a lonely one. He is an only child, he spies on his neighbours, he gets bullied at school and he is always hanging out on the playground by himself. He needs someone like Abby to enter his life, even if for a short while. He is outside quite a lot, making him open to the possibility of a friendship. It would have been more difficult had Owen been passive, stuck in his room, looking out on the world. He is clearly looking for companionship, but is too scared to venture outside his comfort zone (the playground) to seek it. So it must come to him instead. From standing up to his bullies to finally being set free in the pool scene at the end, her presence saves him from his loneliness and fears (cheesy, but true).
The outside is also where the two kids can be together. The playground is their sanctuary. They cannot stay indoors for fear his mother would find out about her and the scene in the arcade proves that locations other than the playground are dangerous for Abby.
Owen is portrayed by Kodi Smit-McPhee – the kid who bothered the hell out of me in The Road. His incessant whining and annoying face ruined the film for me. I expected to hate him in Let Me In, but he is surprisingly the better of the two young actors. He is incredibly natural and understands his character’s vulnerability. Owen’s development feels real and sincere, wearing his heart on his sleeve (with caution) like I have only seen very few child actors do.
Chloë Moretz, on the other hand, started off robotic. She felt pouty and amateurish, like the words were new to her and she was almost just waiting for the right cue to say her line. As the film progresses, however, she becomes more connected with her character and her performance improves. She is daring and dark. She is a tough one to embrace at first but as she gains interest in Owen, we can accept her.
Abby and Owen’s relationship is exciting to watch bloom because we can relate to the idea of first love, especially as physical contact breaks the barrier: it comes most significantly in the simple form of hugging and it is shy Owen who takes the plunge. He is the one who wants to commence a friendship. The first hug takes place in the playground as their friendship begins, the second one outside the arcade after she has been sick.
After Abby kills the policeman, she hugs Owen for the first time. The hugs symbolise each stage they go through in their companionship: friendship, love and death. All assumptions one may have about vampire movies and teenage angst are absent and instead, the spectators find themselves viewing a dark character piece based around the development of the puppy love between a young boy and his neighbour.
Technically, the camera work is spot on and there are a number of fabulous close-ups of the individual actors. This gives the audience time to focus on each character at a time and relates a great sense of what it is like to spy in on someone.
One of the most fantastically executed scenes is when Abby’s “father” kills a stranger in a car. The entire scene is filmed from the backseat and as the car rolls over, the music of Blue Oyster Cult provides the soundtrack. The set-up and audio work so well together that this grim scene is turned into something close to brilliant. It never lets go of the audience’s attention and provides one of the most exciting scenes in the whole film.
All these elements make Let Me In a great, very watchable film, but it has a major downside to it. The less-than-perfect CGI manages to ruin the scenes where Abby kills for blood. For a 21st century movie, you would expect better. There is no point in doing CGI in a movie when it is this bad. If anything, extensive use of make-up and stunts would have been far more efficient and would have allowed the spectator to stay connected with the movie. Instead, we are drawn out of the scene and giggle at the preposterous attempt at creating special effects. Abby does have animalistic attributes when she kills, but she need not look like a four-legged animal when the technology does not prove competent.
I cannot say Let Me In is as sinister and mysterious as Let The Right One In. It’s more straightforward and leaves little to the imagination. It does not possess the necessary delicate touches to make it stand out. Like for instance Eli’s (Abby’s Swedish version played by Lina Leandersson) androgyny. This comes down to a casting error. Moretz is not as cute or traditionally captivating as, say, Elle Fanning, but is girlier than Leandersson. Moretz’ physical attributes get in the way of a complete character representation, to no fault of her own. The mystery surrounding the female lead is not preserved in this film. She is not as freaky (for lack of a better word) and layered as in the Swedish film.
It is a well crafted film with good intentions, but it does not explain its own necessity and that is its biggest failure. The fear that it would turn out to be a simple carbon copy of the Swedish film is justified. The differences are minor and quite insignificant, thus not making it completely its own. It is a movie that does not justify its own existence, simply because it is so close to the original movie. For the audience to fully appreciate the effort of Matt Reeves, he should have interpreted it in a radical way. It is a more personal approach to the script but even so, it fails to deliver.