Let Me In B
By Patrick Z. McGavin
Toronto Film festival (Special presentation)–After his lively pop art alien invasion thriller “Cloverfield,” Matt Reeves turns his hand to a more soulful and deliberate work of dread and surrender with “Let Me In,” a ghostly effective remake of the Tomas Alfredson’s highly acclaimed Swedish vampire work, “Let the Right One In” (which was on many Ten Best Lists, including this site)
The original feature and American remake are both adapted from the Swedish novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist. Reeves stays very close to the original, at times a little too faithfully. If his iteration is often an eerie and smart piece of genre art, it never transcends and floats in the imagination on its own terms. If there is a weakness to this telling, Reeves never quite finds a fully American vernacular, that is, provide a good rationale for its very existence.
Reeves transposes the story from suburban Stockholm to a wintry Los Alamos, New Mexico, and set the tale back in time, during Ronald Reagan’s first term.
The early part, including a framing device not in the original, is very much of apiece stylistically with “Cloverfield,” deploying a nervous, jittery hand- held camera, utilizing a lot of intensely subjective and narrowly defined of vision.
The remake, like the original, centers on the soulful connection made between two lonely outsiders. Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee, who played Viggo Morgenstern’s son in “The Road“) is a slight, withdrawn 12-year-old who lives in a courtyard apartment complex. Seemingly without any close friends, his already sheltered and lonely existence is exacerbated by the collapse of his parents’ marriage. He lives with his mother, who significantly is seen only in shards and fragments. Owen has no real connection to the outside world; he fixates sexually on a beautiful woman who lives across the yard from him and plays out violently sadistic fantasies of violation of young girls with a pocket knife.
Owen is mercilessly tormented at his school by a group of young bullies, who prey on his vulnerability and loneliness. His world is altered by the appearance of an almost delicately beautiful and spectral young girl, Abby (Chloë Grace Moretz), who moves with her father (Richard Jenkins) into the apartment next to him. She’s both formidable and confusing. “Just so you know, we can’t be friends,” she says. “Why?” he wonders. “That’s just the way it is.”
As the two tentatively work out some form of interplay and back and forth emotional exchanges, they achieve a symbiotic attachment. Owen is also a little too naïve and trusting to fully comprehend the parts of Abby‘s life that do not quite cohere. Asked her age, she says, “Twelve, more or less.”
“Let Me In” is about rupture and conflict. Owen’s tormenters make up one brand of terror. In turn Abby is party to a wholly more frightening and vicious corollary that yields a string of bizarre and violent killings necessary to feed her habit. When she violently attacks a man in a tunnel adjacent the apartment complex, the full truth becomes apparent. The delicate, haunting Abby, often seen without shoes, is a vampire.
The film turns on a fascinating moral dilemma, not how does Owen respond to the revelation of Abby’s true nature but the manner she not only spares him but finds a way to protect and give him the strength and courage to fight back. As a dogged though overwhelmed local cop (Elias Koteas) tries to figure out exactly what is going on, the two young friends must negotiate the personal and emotional terms of their relationship.
Reeves is a very good director of action in confined or restricted spaces. He stages the set pieces, like two different attacks unfolding in the interior of a car with a slam bang intensity that is both startling and expressive. The second attack is particularly effective because of Reeve’s almost musical sense of interruption and flow that creates an often-spellbinding anticipation.
As director, Reeves locates a smart, nervy balance between satisfying the genre but also creating a moody suggestiveness of despair and melancholy. Like the original, the movie finally works because of the authentic emotional charge that exists between the two young leads. The two young actors give a human grace to the sound and fury.
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