Wednesday, October 6, 2010

"Let Me In" Review

Remember when vampires played by the rules? When they only came out at night and actually bit necks? Judging by today’s glowering daywalkers, respect for that mythology has been all but Eclipsed. Ahem.

Maybe that was the fear with this remake of “Let the Right One In.” Hollywood had essentially defanged the vampire, and many—myself included—poo-pooed the notion that an American remake of a brilliant foreign film could be anything but fast-food imitation. Fortunately, we were dead wrong; Matt Reeves’ “Let Me In” is the rare sequel worthy of its original.

Still, it’s peculiar timing. Tomas Alfredson’s 2008 Swedish version is barely in the ground, less than two years old, and its English-language retelling is already in western theaters. And it appears mainstream westerners still aren’t interested; even sans subtitles, opening weekend box office returns were abysmal, evidence at least that they didn’t gratuitously sex it up.

Sexuality has been intimately linked with vampire myths for hundreds of years, but part of what made “Let the Right One In” so fascinating was the way it turned all that on its head. Seduction and lust had long been the vampire’s tool and victim’s vice, respectively; conversely, the film—based on a novel by Swedish author John Ajvide Lindqvist—illustrated an uncommonly innocent, romantic vampiric relationship. It’s the heart of the story, and a brilliant creative stroke that survives its Americanization unscathed.

That success is due in no small part to an equally talented young couple in the lead, this time Chloe Moretz—who, between “Let Me In” and her turn as Hit-Girl in “Kick-Ass,” has had one hell of a year—and Kodi Smit-McPhee, who impressively costarred alongside Viggo Mortensen in the 2009 adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road.” Films about kids can be a risky proposal, but Moretz and Smit-McPhee subtly convey their ability to create authentic young characters.

The evolution of Moretz is particularly impressive. Many so-called ‘child-stars’ burn out hot and fast because they allow themselves to be typecast as a child. Moretz, on the other hand, seems to have futureproofed her career by never committing to a specific genre, and by never shying away from more adult fare. Though she always plays a child, most of her characters are not childish; we have no trouble seeing her already as a young woman—Or a centuries-old vampiress, as the case may be.

Beyond the performances, Reeves’ version is as solidly constructed as Alfredson’s. The pacing is deliberately slow, which can make either feel disengaging at times, but only if you’re already well acquainted with the plot of the other. Likewise, I found myself roundly less enthralled by “Let Me In,” if only slightly, because of my familiarity with the Swedish film. Neither is perfect, but despite a slight edge to the original in the subtlety department, the two films are practically interchangeable. “Let Me In” is like a good cover or acoustic version of an already great song.

Both versions are alike in their minimalistic framing, and to air one minor gripe the two share, they both feature ugly CG effects that mar certain moments. In “Let Me In” Reeves pulls back during action sequences to showcase just how fast his vampire moves, but instead of being disturbing, it comes across cartoony. The style juxtaposes the atmosphere of restraint he builds elsewhere uncomfortably. In a film this slow, he really has to nail the spikes, and he isn’t always successful.

Nevertheless, “Let Me In” is still a firm reminder of what the genre is capable of when treated maturely. It’s a shame that vampires have become popular as such silly caricatures of their former selves—the resounding thud of this film tanking will likely ensure it stays that way. As it turns out, it’s hard to win when you’re the only one playing by the rules.


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