Let Me In

There is only one problem with Let Me In -- it has the unfortunate luck of being a remake of Let the Right One In.  Indeed, had that brilliant Swedish horror film not shown up in 2008 to completely change our perception of the vampire genre, Matt Reeves's take on John Ajvide Lindqvist's novel would be hailed as a masterpiece.  As it stands, this US update is equally flawless -- expertly filmed, beautifully acted, and retaining much of the original's sense of sadness and dread without resorting to a literal recreation. Some will still balk at the idea of a redux, finding it pointless and counterproductive. They couldn't be more wrong.

It's the early '80s in Los Alamos, New Mexico. We meet young Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee) a very sensitive boy with an absentee father and a drunken mother. Mercilessly picked on by bullies at his school, our distressed hero loses himself in a world of imagined vengeance and lonely days on the apartment complex playground. One chilly winter night, he runs into the barefooted Abby (Chloƫ Moretz), his new neighbor. Owen is initially intrigued, but the girl makes it very clear the two cannot be friends. Meanwhile, a nameless policeman (Elias Koteas) is investigating a rash of ritualistic murders in the area -- and the clues seem to lead to the man (Richard Jenkins) who acts as Abby's guardian. Soon, Owen discovers the truth about his accidental playmate, and the connection between the two grow stronger...and quite sinister.

Like Steven Spielberg shuttled over to much darker and dense territory, Let Me In is a revelation. It's a work of stunning power, visionary in its use of mood and atmosphere, subversive in the way its story crawls under your skin. Like a carefully controlled poem, director Matt Reeves meticulously crafts every scene to fit within the others, nearly turning the film into a cinematic verse epic in the process. With a cast that carries his minimalistic approach to sublime levels and a story that's both slightly familiar and yet completely innovative, it's like watching the original film with totally new eyes. We know where things are going, but Reeves wants to take us there in a new and inventive way.

From the start, the main leads argue for their ability to anchor a film. Smit-McPhee, rather unimportant in the bland adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's The Road, is a marvel here. He is so thin, so part of the period being depicted that he's almost iconic. Every time we see him, we sense another avenue of understanding and emotional dimension opening up. He's the fulcrum around which this entire project revolves. Without him, Let  Me In would be less than a success. Luckily, Reeves also cast Ms. Moretz as his supernatural lead, and while not quite as ethereal as little Swedish darling Lina Leandersson, she's her own unique version of the ageless member of the living dead. The vampire element is underplayed here -- it's given mandatory moments of macabre bloodletting, but never really viewed as a true threat or supreme evil. Instead, we are supposed to view the horror of the real world as seen through the eyes of these children and marvel at how they could possibly survive.

In fact, Let Me In is one of the best, boldest coming of age statements ever. It centers on the angst that drives the pre-adolescent, the uneasy feeling of being an outsider and alone in your nonconformity, and then highlights its harmful aftereffects. That said sentiments are expressed in torrents of blood instead of silly psycho-babble proves this film's brilliance. Fans hoping that Reeves would merely avoid screwing things up can finally exhale. Let Me In is one of the best films of 2010 -- with or without its celebrated source material. 

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