Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5
At a time when vampire stories are saturating the market, and targeting everyone from young readers to Twi-moms, here’s one with a difference.
Based on the same novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist that spawned the well-made Swedish thriller Let the Right One In, this film by director Matt Reeves (Cloverfield) is an Americanised thriller with the feel of the chilling lonely-man thrillers of the 1970s (think the tone and mood of Taxi Driver).
This film is not escapist fantasy or teen-oriented angst drama; instead, it is a more sombre and terrifying tale about two young outsiders, one of whom has an ungodly thirst for blood.
That she is a vampire, if not by name but by nature, is what makes Abby (Chloe Moretz) relate with the lonesome Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee). While there are moments of suspense and terror, which sometimes entail disappointing special effects, the film is ultimately about a friendship and history repeating itself.
Talk about history repeating itself. Fans that have already watched the Swedish film directed by Tomas Alfredson may have trouble embracing this, which presumably has been made primarily for the North American as well as English-speaking audience at large (or at least those with a strong aversion to subtitles).
Reeves insists: this is not a remake of the film, but another interpretation of the novel. Same difference. Those viewing this with fresh eyes will probably appreciate the work of the two young leads, the starkness and rawness of the setting and developments.
Transported from a Stockholm suburb into a New Mexico town in the 1980s, the story focuses on the strange goings-on after Abby and a man everyone presumes to be her father (Richard Jenkins) moves into the neighbourhood.
People start getting killed in what appears to be ritualistic fashion – blood is drained from their bodies post-mortem – and clues start to lead back to Abby and her ‘father’. At the same time, she and Owen, frequently left to his own devices after his parents’ divorce, strike up an unlikely relationship at the local snow-covered playground.
The title of the film refers to an apparent vampiristic rule that one may not enter a human’s abode without a spoken invitation – there is a dramatic demonstration of the consequences.
The source material seemed to delight in the conventions surrounding vampires, and this sheds new light for audiences unfamiliar with obscure superstitions, or their Nordic embellishments.
Much of what is good about Let Me In can be found in its Swedish counterpart. Where the latter is superior is in the element of surprise and the relative anonymity of its child stars; Moretz’s burgeoning fame, largely from playing the controversially potty-mouthed Hit-Girl in Kick-Ass, distracts a tad from her nice turn here.
Australian Smit-McPhee (The Road) also does well as the meek Owen, who has Travis Bickle tendencies because he is a target of bullies at school.
There is something sweet in how the two find each other and connect, and realise a mutual need that transcends natural bounds – after all, she is hunter, he is prey – and embark on a union that may last for all of his lifetime.
And there is much that is admirable about Reeves’ film, for which much must be credited to the strong underlying story, but virgin viewing is required.
For those, such as I, who have seen the no-frills Swedish film, which is burned on my brain as the first and truest interpretation, it’s hard to know what to make of this. That film had darkly comic touches that are not present in this more serious-minded affair.
And the acting talent in that film was strong as well, if unfamiliar and enigmatic. And even if this is not a shot-for-shot remake, it feels like a redux in the vein of the latter-version Psycho. So through these eyes, this film can never be considered great, not the way Alfredson’s was.
Different eyes, however, may be moved to tears.
Yong Shu Chiang, otherwise known as SC, is a freelance editor and writer. He reviewed movies for Juice magazine when he was in college, and was the resident film reviewer for Today Newspaper from 2003 to 2005. He has also reviewed movies for Prime Time Morning on Channel NewsAsia.