Title: Let Me In
Year of Release: 2010
Date Viewed: March 2nd, 2011
MPAA Rating: R
A foreign film receives the Hollywood treatment and the result is wonderful. Those words are probably not written very often. The Swedish novel turned movie Let The Right One In earned enough word-of-mouth praise upon its release to become a modern cult classic. Less than a year later, an American version re-titled Let Me In was greenlit to show the mainstream domestic audience what they have been missing. Re-imagining foreign cinema is a very common practice especially with horror films. The reception for these projects tend to be less than enthusiastic because the studios are often oblivious to the elements that made the original films popular in the first place. This is not the case here. Writer/director Matt Reeves should be proud of himself for not only creating a picture-perfect adaptation but also doing what many believed to be impossible; improve on the source material.
Kodi Smit-McPhee plays twelve-year-old Owen, an emotionally disturbed outcast who lives in fear of school bullies. As their antics become increasingly dangerous, Owen's dark dreams of fighting back start to consume his innocence. In an early scene, he rehearses fantasy scenarios that end with the tormentors getting a taste of their own violent medicine. But his social inhibitions are too strong to allow anything to happen beyond the imagination.
Just as the world (both physically and emotionally) begins to look its bleakest, a new neighbor moves into Owen's next-door apartment and then into his life. The person appears to be a girl around Owen's age and under the guardianship of a middle-aged parent. Supporting characters learn secrets of their otherworldly true history but most will not live to remember them. The girl is named Abby and she's played by rising star Chloe Grace Moretz. Abby's presence fills the missing void resulting from isolation. Her behavior is principally odd. She only appears after sunset, is often underdressed and initially rejects Owen's offer of friendship despite signs of a similar loneliness. Both characters soon understand that they need each other for their lives to have any hope of finding peace. This requires mutual sacrifice. Abby has what it takes to ensure her new friend's safety, but Owen first needs to accept the reality of their situation; which conflicts with the normal notions of reality.
To be a respectable successor to the Swedish product, there needed to be strong direction. Without that, even the best idea in the world can fall to injustice. I don't know how Matt Reeves got the job, but he was the right choice. Reeves understands that every shot counts and he makes the most of all opportunities. Since at least a full year passed after watching the original film, I cannot recall what, if anything, was recreated shot-for-shot. But I do know that effort was put forth to make the project his own. The moments I adore most are the scenes fixed on a stationary platform. By presenting the drama through wide angles, it enhances both the credibility and immersion. They look like moving works of art.
The story itself is rather artful in its own right. Supernatural romances like Stephanie Meyer's Twilight have the disadvantage of depending on the audience's will to accept pre-conceived fantasy and suspend disbelief. Let Me In's synopsis is far from realistic yet it doesn't require very much compromise to enjoy. People that were considered outcasts as children can find a lot of relatable material with the two main characters. Owen's story is one of social awkwardness while Abby's situation is more about physical limitations. These flaws prevent them from mainstream acceptance, so they turn to other outcasts for coping. It's just as much a love story as it is about friendship under realistic conditions. That's why the affection that Owen and Abby have for each other is more credible than Hollywood's common practice of pulling two pretty faces out of a hat for an experiment in chemistry.
You couldn't ask for better performances from child actors. Smit-McPhee and Moretz handle their tasks on the same level of grace as typical movie veterans. It's especially notable since the roles called for emotional maturity while staying true to childlike naivety at the same time. The supporting actors offered strong contributions as well. Richard Jenkins is perfectly cast in the heartbreaking role of Abby's caretaker. His character is depicted with vulnerability yet possessing of so much strength of love for his beloved companion. Elias Koteas (a personal favorite of mine) does respectively as the compulsive detective that doesn't understand the complexity of the local crime until it's too late. The bullies that terrorize poor Owen rise above the typical after-school special cutouts and bring a genuine aura of uneasiness. Their scenes are almost too uncomfortable to be watched.
As far as things that don't quite fit like a glove, some of Reeve's more subtle art is too muddled for its own good. Los Alamos, New Mexico is the chosen setting. Someone please correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't believe any parts of that state see winters as long and harsh as the one depicted here. It could be argued that the setting serves as an appropriate backdrop for the story's grim nature. But when the 1983 timeline complete with Ronald Reagan's "Evil Empire" speech enters the equation, one questions if a deeper meaning was intended. The only conclusions I came up with for connections with the Cold War and Republican politics are too vague for any serious thought. Those ideas, whatever they were, remain unrealized. The same however cannot be said for the heart of the movie. There is so much to appreciate here that it's discouraging to remember how poor the marketing was for this film. On the other hand, optimism for American studios' capability in faithfully translating foreign material has been boosted. Let Me In should be the blueprint for all future attempts.