Screen Rant's Kofi Outlaw Reviews Let Me In
There are two types of people who are going to want to watch Let Me In: those who are all-too familiar with the Swedish novel-turned-movie which spawned this English-language remake, and those who have never heard the name Let The Right One In and are simply interested in a unique tale of adolescent romance and vampire drama.
Count me amongst those who know of Tomas Alfredson's Swedish film adaptation of John Ajvide Lindqvist's famous novel - and while that association certainly lends me a strong critical bias, I'll try my best to be fair and judge Let Me In on its own merits.
The story is set in Los Alamos, New Mexico, in a small town circa 1983. Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is a boy living with his mother (Cara Buono) in a rundown apartment complex, as his parents fight their way through a nasty divorce. Owen's mom deals with her pain one empty wine bottle at a time, leaving Owen perpetually alone, trying to stumble through his own emotional turmoil. School is no better: a nasty bully (Dylan Minnette) constantly goes out of his way to make Owen's already-troubled life an unbearable hell.
Owen is a strange boy to begin with, and the ongoing issues at home and at school slowly push him to embrace the darker sides of life. He steals from his mother's purse, spies on the nocturnal activities of his neighbors, and plays out some very dark fantasies about what it would be like to murder the classmates who torment him.
The dark cloud hanging over Owen is seemingly lifted when he meets Abby (Chloe Moretz), a little girl who moves into the apartment next door with her "father" (Richard Jenkins). Abby is just as strange as Owen - she smells funny, seems just as isolated and walks around at night in the snow with bare feet.
As two outcasts stranded in the same dead end town, Owen and Abby quickly form a bond. But the closer the two get, the more Owen realizes that his new crush may have secrets that are far darker and more dangerous than anything he's ever known, and that the cost of knowing her and loving her, could be his soul.
It's no SPOILER to say that the hook in this story is that Abby is a vampire - in fact, most people will be going to see Let Me In expecting a vampire story. The problem is that Let Me In is stranded somewhere in a middle ground: it's above conventional vampire genre films but below the subtle, nuanced work of art it aspires to be. By basing the script on the original by John Ajvide Lindqvist, it seems that Matt Reeves sets the bar at a height that he and the cast can't quite reach.
I can't say the problem lies with the film's young leads: Kodi Smit-McPhee and Chloe Moretz do an admirable job carrying this movie, given how young they are and how adult the subject matter is. Of the pair, I have to give Moretz the higher grade: she does well alternating between the sweet and innocent facade of a little girl and the feral nature of a deadly predator. Smit-McPhee does well enough making Owen into a frail, dough-eyed victim - a kid who has been shoved into the side margins of life at an early age by people who refuse to notice him, respect him or care for him.
If I have to make one criticism of both Moretz and Smit-McPhee, it's that they didn't quite match the brilliance of Kåre Hedebrant and Lena Leandersson, the two young actors who played these roles in Let The Right One In. What Moretz is missing is that subtle hint of an older soul hiding behind that little girl face, while Smit-McPhee makes Owen into too much of a victim; a few contrived scenes of Owen wearing a scary mask are not enough to make me believe this wimpy kid has a killer's edge buried deep inside him.
In the end, both young leads inevitably show their age - especially when it comes to the chemistry between them. They seem only capable of bonding on the juvenile levels they're familiar with, which is something of a misstep for Moretz' character, who is supposed to be well-versed in what it means to find, nurture and ultimately lose love. But still, the pair are charming in their puppy-dog affection and work hard to portray their characters in full complexity. Again, they both reach for that high bar, but can't quite manage to grab it.
The only cast members who are able to really tap into the subtle depth required of them are Richard Jenkins as Abby's guardian and Elias Koteas as the policeman who is investigating the murders being committed by Jenkins' character. These two veteran actors are able to convey entire stories in just a few words and expressions, which is an especially important task for Jenkins, who holds up his end as Abby's soul-sapped companion well. Also worthy of note is Dylan Minnette as the bully tormenting Owen: Minnette is a young actor, but it's a real compliment to say that he manages to turn his bully character into a monster far more menacing than Abby (just as Lindqvist's narrative intended).
I believe that director Matt Reeves (Cloverfield) genuinely had his heart in the right place when making this film, it's just that he doesn't seem to have the proper sensibilities as a director to achieve what this film required. Don't get me wrong, I'm not at all saying that Reeves is a BAD director - on the contrary, the camerawork and cinematography in Let Me In looks crisp and clean. A few sub-par CGI moments and lens flares aside, this is a visually competent film.
However, Tomas Alfredson made art out of Let The Right One In. Alfredson took the slow-burn pace of Lindqvist's script and created some stunning Mise-en-scéne, certainly the best I've seen from modern vampire movies. Let The Right One In moved slowly, had little dialogue and even less ambient music, but every frame told a distinct story and every scene alluded to so much more than what was simply on the surface.
While Reeves has copied Alfredson's vision in many places, his shots and scenes lack the visual depth of the Swedish director's work. This is most obvious in the many closeups Reeves relies on to tell the story, often translating the relationship between Abby and Owen into the visual equivalent of "in their own world," rather than using wider shots that subtly contextualize what it is we're seeing transpire. The end effect for me was a movie that looked much the same as its foreign counterpart, but wasn't nearly as stimulating or interesting for the well-trained eye. To put it in plainer terms: Reeves' direction is a subdued, safe, clean - and a bit boring.
Finally, those who worry about that dreaded cinematic dirty word, "Americanization," are going to likely feel justified in their fears. Let Me In is indisputably a shiny and polished Hollywood product and one thing that really did irk me was the heavy reliance on a musical score.
The Swedish version of this story was so still and quiet, and yet, so moving. This version feels overblown and overly dramatic at many points, and a lot of that I would have to blame on the music, which attempts to cajole the viewer into the emotional spaces the acting and story should've been solely responsible for carrying us to. To me, that kind of cinematic manipulation indicates a lack of trust in your film's poignancy (the need to pad it at every point with a soundtrack) and I don't think the filmmakers behind Let Me In needed to show such concern. The silence could've said so much more.
On the larger scale of movie remakes, Let Me In is neither the best nor the worst of the bunch. It's fairly entertaining, but ultimately offers very little of anything that will make it feel necessary or memorable. As a standalone entry in the vampire genre, the film does offer something unique - especially for those who don't know about its more beautiful and interesting cousin from Sweden.
Watch the trailer for Let Me In to help you make up your mind: