Most of those who came into contact with the 2008 Swedish masterpiece Let the Right One In were immediately captivated and hypnotized by its brilliance, especially in the wake of the insipid Twilight phenomenon. It committed an unforgivable sin, though: It was foreign and subtitle-laden, meaning the movie never existed in Hollywood’s eyes. Thus, now we have Let Me In — the gratuitous redo — a quick two years after the original film. Of course, this remake has been controversial from the beginning because it’s simply unnecessary, and alas the final product hardly alleviates these reservations. On its own, 2010’s Let Me In is well-made and benefits from elegant visual flourishes, but it’s almost a direct copy of the beloved original and therefore comes across as pointless for those already familiar with the material. Additionally, writer-director Matt Reeves (Cloverfield) aimed to make a moody, sullen shocker with a touch of romance, but dull and ponderous are more appropriate descriptors.
Set in New Mexico in the winter of the early 1980s, Let Me In concerns 12-year-old Owen (Smit-McPhee). Bullied incessantly at school, Owen lives a solitary life in a bleak apartment complex, and takes solace in voyeurism and violent fantasies while perpetually yearning for a friend. Into the community soon comes a strange pre-teen named Abby (Moretz), who drags around an older man (Jenkins) whom everyone assumes is her father. Through their mutual appreciation of puzzles and after a string of snowy late-night meetings, Abby and Owen forge a tentative friendship. His correspondences with Abby are all the more exciting for Owen since his home life was destroyed by a bitter divorce. Little does Owen realize, however, that Abby is in fact a vampire. Meanwhile, after a string of murders in the local area, a detective (Koteas) begins an investigation which brings him closer and closer to Abby’s doorstep.
Let Me In is not terrible per se, but it pales in comparison to its predecessor. Frankly, the film feels meaningless and gutless, with any justification for its existence being financial rather than artistic since Reeves did nothing to improve upon the original film in any worthwhile or substantive way. Dialogue is also not a strong point, as it would seem that Reeves literally put the original Swedish script through Google Translator and passed the product off as his own. Yet while the film is incredibly faithful to the original, a few changes were made which hinder this remake’s effectiveness, most notably that Abby is not an alluring question mark to be explored over two hours but instead an animal from the word “go”. Reeves also chose to dispose of the peripheral faces of the story, and not explore the local townspeople. This may keep all eyes on Owen and Abby, but it drains the threat of the film and renders the attack scenes as hollow violence to satiate the mainstream crowd. In the process, crucial steps of suspense are lost. Perhaps most importantly, as a standalone movie it suffers from clumsy pacing. While Let the Right One In was captivating from the very first frame, Let Me In is too cold and detached. Instead of quietly alluring, it’s just dreary.
Admittedly, Let Me In benefits from slick production values and impressive visual gamesmanship. Gorgeous cinematography courtesy of Greig Fraser is a particular highlight, and the compositions are frequently riveting; spotlighting Reeves’s commitment to constructing his remake with a striking visual identity. But even with slick production values, the special effects are surprisingly substandard. In particular, the CGI for the attack scenes is more cheesy than effective, and may provoke laughter rather than screams. Speaking of the attack scenes, the general rule of thumb is that the less seen, the more response it provokes. Reeves eschewed this rule, and amplified gore elements just for the sake of it. Thus, there’s more blood, more icky sound effects, and more direct violence. This does not achieve an increased level of fright, though — it instead makes the movie feel more generic and less masterful than its Swedish forerunner.
On a more positive note, the central performances of Let Me In are strong. Kodi Smit-McPhee (last seen in The Road) is perfectly believable as young Owen, who’s burdened by realizations and feelings that no tween should be forced to confront. Smit-McPhee also displays a wonderful mix of boldness, shyness and fear. Alongside him, Chloà« Moretz (a.k.a. Hit Girl from Kick-Ass) is arguably the largest asset — she’s chilling and well-nuanced. However, Moretz is perhaps too cute and attractive to play Abby since the character was envisioned as more androgynous in the original film. In the supporting cast, Richard Jenkins is predictably great, while Elias Koteas nailed the role of the detective.
As with any remake, those who see Let Me In without a familiarity with the original Swedish film will not understand what they’re missing. While this incarnation looks slick and is at times striking to study, it remains a condensed, vanilla interpretation of the source material. There’s absolutely no getting around the fact that this version did not need to exist. Speaking in terms of versions of this story, Let Me In is not the right one.