Tuesday, 16 November 2010
Two Vampire Tales to Freeze the Blood and Warm the Heart
LET ME IN is the US remake of the beloved (by me and millions of others) Swedish vampire/coming of age film LET THE RIGHT ONE IN, which itself was adapted from the novel of the same name by its author John Ajvide Lindqvist.
A huge fan of the original movie and the book it was based on, Matt Reeves, director of CLOVERFIELD, took on the unenviable task of ‘Americanising’ this story of a lonely, abused boy who befriends the little girl next door only to discover that she has a very, very dark secret.
Firstly, here’s where I’m coming from.
LET THE RIGHT ONE IN is a modern classic and a film I deeply love. I’ve watched it many times. It was my favourite film of 2008 besting even that other classic of the same year THE DARK KNIGHT. It’s a masterpiece of subtle emotion that delves deep in to loneliness, separation, isolation and the pains of growing up, of finding that special someone who ‘gets you’. Eli and Oskar are two lonely souls who find each other amidst the frozen world – both physically and emotionally – that they both inhabit. They each give the other something to help them carry on: an inner strength, a purpose for being. It’s a beautiful love story that touches the heart and freezes the soul as there always remains some ambiguity about Eli’s true purpose. Is she in fact just grooming Oskar to be her next carer, to replace the unfortunate Håkan after he’s caught by the police and takes a fatal dive from his hospital window? In the hands of director Tomas Alfredson the film plays out in a restrained, almost Kubrickian style with an oft still camera, long takes and a real feeling of icy isolation, reserved emotion and unspoken despair. It is this reservation of emotion that makes the genuine connection forged between Eli and Oskar even more powerful and affecting.
So bearing in mind how I feel about the original I approached LET ME IN with a great deal of trepidation.
Upon first hearing of this remake I was cynical and rather bitter because LET THE RIGHT ONE IN means a lot to me. I, like many others worldwide, feel protective of it.
But then something started to change.
Reading interviews with Matt Reeves it became clear that he adores the original film and book as much as I do. It touched a nerve in him. It made a connection. Realising that the remake was going to happen one way or another, Reeves got in there early to make sure that if it had to be done then it would at least be done right. He was going to make damn sure Hollywood didn’t pull its usual trick of ruining what makes something special. He was going to make sure the kids didn’t suddenly become twentysomething teens living in, say, contemporary LA. He was going to make sure the film wouldn’t be filled with marketable music by the latest hip rock or indie bands. And he succeeded. What Matt Reeves has done is to make sure that this story has been told as it was meant to be told and that the delicate themes and emotions remain intact. He’s made sure that the brutal horror of Eli/Abby’s feeding and of Oskar/Owen’s abuse is kept to the fore. He’s made sure his film stays wrapped in that same frozen world of horror and despair and loneliness from which there seems no escape. He’s kept John Ajvide Lindqvist's tale a chilling, intimate and effective love story between two lost souls looking for a way out as much as a way in.
And bless him for it.
LET ME IN is an excellent film. There is no doubt about that.
It captures the story, character, themes and mood of the original while taking a couple of slight detours here and there so as to subtly distinguish itself. Unlike LTROI, we don’t get to know or follow Owen’s neighbours (Lacke and Virginia etc. in the original) but rather we see them at a distance through Owen’s telescope in his bedroom. An early scene where he sees Virginia getting naked and engaging in foreplay with her man is a small sexual awakening for the boy which leads into his stirring feelings for Abby, shown further when, smiling, he spies on her getting changed (a scene in the original which plays out rather differently here as it misses a famous key shot). This rather dark sexual awakening is something of a theme in LET ME IN and is more obvious than in the original. Witness Owen’s watching of Virginia getting naked, his lingering looks at the young girls in their swimsuits at the pool, his eagerness to catch Abby naked as she changes, his worrying use of the term “little girl” when he pretends to stab a victim.
So with the neighbours mostly absent in this telling of the tale it's a local cop (Elias Koteas) who we follow as he investigates the various murders, eventually leading him to Abby’s door. The cop is the one who discovers Abby in the bathroom and who pays the bloody price. And that’s fine. None of this detracts from the film as it is the relationship between Owen and Abby that we really care about, that really matters. And that relationship works just as well here as it does in the original thanks to the sensitive direction of Reeves and the excellent work of Kodi Smit-McPhee as Owen and Chloe Moretz (yes, Hit-Girl herself) as Abby. My only minor complaint about the kids is that they are almost too good. The original kids in LTROI were not professional actors. They had a kind of awkwardness about them that came across as more naturalistic. Kodi and Chloe are classy professional actors who do a splendid, seamless job. I’m not criticising them. They both rock. I just prefer that slightly uncomfortable, amateurish feel from the originals two young leads. It sells the innocence and evil behind innocence a tiny bit better.
So how does the rest of it stack up to the original?
To be honest the vast majority of LET ME IN plays out almost exactly as the original. Many scenes (especially the key ones) are virtual carbon copies of dialogue, shot composition and editing. Other places where it does differ it does so in interesting ways. Reeves decides to isolate Owen further by only letting the lad have contact with his father by phone unlike in the original where Oskar goes to visit his dad only to be sidelined. And I really enjoyed Abby’s ‘father’ hiding out in the back of people’s cars to kill them for their blood. This leads to a great sequence where it all goes horribly wrong with a major car crash brilliantly shot entirely from inside the tumbling car. The film’s final act is virtually identical to the original, building up to that now iconic sequence in the swimming pool (slightly more frenzied here but still great) where Owen is tortured by his bullies one last time, before the film then ends just as the original did on the train carrying Owen away on a journey to who knows where.
I have no major complaints about how this film was made. Sure, a lot of the CGI Abby effects were pretty poor and I question the need to give her glowy vampire eyes and demonic looks when feeding as it detracts somewhat from the more subtle and restrained feel of the film. But it’s nothing to get too bothered about. The positives far outweigh the negatives. Cinematography, art direction, costumes…they’re all great. And Michael Giacchino’s score is mournfully sweet and darkly menacing in equal measure. It doesn’t quite soar to the heartrending highs of Johan Soderquist’s gorgeous score for the original but it is still mighty fine and helps cement Giacchino’s position as one of the very best contemporary film composers.
So, yeah, LET ME IN is an excellent film. Matt Reeves did a bang up job in taking such beloved material and subtly shaping it in to a new version deemed fit for those who can’t or won’t read subtitles, who hear the phrase ‘foreign language film’ and run screaming. The soul of the story and its characters remains intact and he can be justifiably proud. Fans of the original won’t be offended or angry.
Despite my original fears about remaking a movie I love dearly I’m not morally opposed to remakes. I have no problem with them…as long as they are good and bring something else to the table. What I can’t abide are soulless artistically bankrupt efforts that only exist to make a quick cash grab (Platinum Dunes I’m looking at you.) Anyway, you can argue that LET ME IN is just another adaptation of a book – something that happens all the time. And now that the dust has settled I’m actually happy that two versions of the same story I love, both wonderful, both decidedly intimate, emotional and uncommercial, can exist in this world at the same time. And though I will always love and prefer Tomas Alfredson’s LET THE RIGHT ONE IN, having forged a special connection to it, Matt Reeves’ LET ME IN is a great movie in its own right. It's heart is in the right place and it deserves to be loved as well.
The final irony, though, is that despite excellent reviews, LET ME IN fared dismally at the US box office making not a huge amount more in total than the original did on a fraction of its screens. I ask you, in what sane world can a dismally dull supernatural bore like CASE 39 that had been left on the shelf for a couple of years end up making more money than something so good? 4.5 (out of 5)