Let Me In

Director    Matt Reeves
Starring    Chloe Grace Moretz, Kodi Smit-McPhee
Release    5 NOV (UK)    Certificate 15
4 stars


5th November 2010

Ugh, remakes. Am I right, guys? Take a perfectly good Swedish vampire film, strip the subtitles, gloss it up and re-release it for American audiences to cash in on the Twilight craze. Sound about right? Well no, actually we were all wrong. I was expecting to walk out of the cinema spitting vitriol at Let Me In's vast inferiority to the 2008 original (already cult favourite) film Let the Right One In, but this remake is actually pretty good. No, it's better than that - it's almost just as good.

That said, Cloverfield director Matt Reeves sticks so close to original director Tomas Alfredson's style and tone (not to mention seemingly shot-for-shot scenes), the result is simply an imitation of an already excellent film, so how could he fail? Here's where the debate switches from 'Remake vs Original' to 'Rip-off or Homage?' - can we praise a film that plays like a photocopy of a previously acclaimed template? Well, why not? Newcomers should enjoy the story no matter which version they watch first and, more importantly, for fans of the original, this Americanised adaptation simply provides an enjoyable revisit to a truly interesting tale. After all, on the face of it, this film, just like its predecessor, is an atmospheric, thoughtful exploration of the very nature of vampirism, with several gruesome horror moments thrown in for sheer pleasure. What's not to like?

To get us all up to speed: the year is 1982 and the place is the snowy New Mexico town of Los Alamos (if you squint a bit, you can pretend its Stockholm). Owen (Smit-McPhee) is a socially inept schoolboy who falls victim to frequent attacks of vicious bullying. As he fantasises about getting his own back on his tormentors, a mysterious 12-year-old girl named Abby (Moretz) moves in next door to him and the two soon become friends. But this young girl is, obviously, not all she seems to be - walking around barefoot, disturbing father figure, wise beyond her years, etc. She doesn't even know what a Rubik's Cube is, for Christ's sake - she must be a supernatural being.

[gallery]The brilliance of the story, however, lies in its understatement of the fact that Abby is clearly a vampire - we don't find out her back story and we don't need to know if she has an aversion to reflective surfaces, crucifixes or garlic. All the basics are there and, when they are used, the consequences are horrific: a newly turned vamp doesn't glitter in the sun - she screams and sets the whole room in flames, and when Abby enters a house uninvited, she gushes blood from unseen wounds in her skin. Remember when vampires were scary? This will remind you.

What the film does so well (both the remake and the original) is providing a setting so bleak and barren, it serves to emphasise both Abby and Owen's feelings of isolation. The stark space that surrounds them brings them closer together, creating a juxtaposition between the viciousness and tenderness they both feel (even Owen - he has his own inner demon). All of this, set to Michael Giacchino's haunting score, sets the emotional tone of the movie, implying both dread and romance within an intimate context.

Unfortunately, the film lets itself down in the few moments when it descends into real horror thanks to Reeves' determination to use CGI to augment Abby's supernatural abilities. In a film so simple and so sparse, these few computer generated scenes of monstrosity may have the intended effect of shocking viewers, but they stick out like bloody fangs in an otherwise sparkly set of clean white teeth. Horror fans will get a kick out of them, but Reeves' seems to forget here that the original's minimalism is what made it so great.

There are other, more classy, stand-out moments though, such as the grotesque face of Abby's father with self-inflicted acid burns and a brutal car crash seen from the fixed point camera of the vehicle as it rolls down a hill into a ditch. These scenes alone prove that you don't need 0s and 1s to raise the audience's pulse.

So, while fans of the original will no doubt write this off as a sacrilegious exercise into pointless remaking, the truth is that the end result is an enjoyably, brilliant film regardless of its origins. Besides, if the choice were between a well-made-but-redundant replica and a complete reimagining, set in Beverley Hills and starring Justin Bieber, I'll take the replica every time.

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