Friday, October 25, 2013

Movie Review: "Let Me In" by David Pretty

There should be an artistic review board that studio execs have to go before in order to gain permission to remake a good movie. In a perfect world, the only remakes would be films that showed a glimmer of promise but were tragically undone by bad performances, poor direction or lame special effects. In this scenario no iconic films would be sullied and we might actually end up with a few new modern classics! Seriously, get to know me, Hollywood!

Let Me In is the inevitable North American-ization of one of my favorite films from 2009: Let the Right One In. I loved how the original took the oldest, hoariest movie monster cliche and managed to craft a completely new and different take on the legend. All Let Me In really does is clarify the narrative to ensure that mouth-breathers don't get confused, spruce up the special effects a little bit and dispense with all of those pesky subtitles. Is it a bad movie? No. Is it a necessary movie? Frankly, I'd be hard-pressed to mount a convincing defense.

Just like in the original, Let Me In follows the tale of a young, habitually-bullied boy named Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee). Owen's going through a pretty rough patch right now: his parents are divorced, his alcoholic, God-fearing mother is literally anonymous and he's a constant magnet for abuse at school. One night, while sitting alone in a snow-covered playground, Owen finds himself in the company of the shoeless, enigmatic Ally (Chloe Moretz), who promptly informs him that "we can't be friends". Despite the off-putting introduction, the two alienated youngsters start to find solace in one another's company and they begin to bond.

Abby's cryptic insistence that she's "not a girl" soon starts to make sense after her world-weary guardian kills a local and harvests the resulting blood to feed his young charge. When her patron kills himself in a fit of guilt, Abby is suddenly forced to hunt, rather messily, for herself. Not long after Owen witnesses her feral side first-hand and must choose between a real world populated with human monsters or the shadow realm where real monsters pledge to protect him.

Director Matt Reeves, who helmed Cloverfield a few moons back, does a deft job moving the storyline along and crafting some memorable images. But his efforts pale in comparison to the lingering, haunting and unsettling minimalism and restraint shown by Tomas Alfredson in the original. The script also adds some superfluous exposition that makes this version feel longer despite their identical run times. I'd gladly take more scenes between Eli and her guardian in Let The Right One In versus an unnecessary prologue that the original managed to summarize with a few economic lines of dialogue.

Both of the kids give performances that belie their age. Although Kodi Smit-McPhee plays the perfect waif, his incessant helplessness gets a bit cloying after awhile. Kåre Hedebrant in the original seemed more weird than wilting. Chloe "Hit Girl" Moretz is also fantastic as Abby and she strikes the pitch-perfect balance between penitent, vulnerable, and downright rabid at times. Again, I still preferred Lina Leandersson's androgynous Eli in the original, since Owen became protective of her regardless of gender attraction. Leandersson was also more interesting in a tragic,weary "old soul" kinda way. This also served to underscore the troubling chronological age difference that separated the two.

Even the title of the remake seems to miss the point. I loved how the trappings of vampirism take on a thematic parallel to adolescence in the original. Oskar inviting Eli into his home is a great metaphor for the tough choices we all have to make as kids when we started to picking and choosing our friends from a limited and sometimes questionable pool of options. With Let Me In the entire scenario takes a step backwards into convention and cliche.

Now, don't get me wrong: this film is respectfully mounted and, if there was no predecessor, I'd probably heap mountains of praise upon its premise and execution. But with a perfectly good original out there, Let Me In doesn't come close to threatening its sire with obsolescence.

Tilt: down.

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