Stop me if you’ve heard this before...
Image: Icon Film Distribution
Prior to this film’s release, writer/director Matt Reeves was working hard to convince people of his good intentions. After all, the announcement that the much-loved Swedish horror Let the Right One In would be American-ized was greeted with the same reaction as if Reeves had announced he would be punching the original’s child actors in their faces for two hours. Slowly but surely, however, we were assured of his good intentions, and early reviews suggested that it was really rather good.
The story remains the same, but now set in Los Alamos, New Mexico. It’s 1983, and young Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is having a tough time. His parents are getting a divorce, leaving him with his alcoholic, barely-present mum. He’s relentlessly bullied at school. But then Abby (Chloë Grace Moretz) moves in next door with her dad (Richard Jenkins). The two begin a tentative relationship, but when a series of grisly murders begin, Owen starts to realise Abby’s not like other girls.
When I saw Tomas Alfredson’s Let the Right One In, I loved the faithfulness to John Ajvide Lindqvist’s novel, but I was also impressed by what had been excised. The author and the director collaborated to make a film that told the same story but was a distinctly separate entity. Reeves clearly decided that faithfulness was the best course to take, and while he avoids many of the usual pitfalls of remakes and has escaped the mauling I’m sure he was afraid of, Let Me In falls prey to redundancy.
There’s a lot here that deserves recognition. Reeves strives to establish a different place and mood to the original with several nice touches. Ronald Reagan’s speaking about evil, the TV’s asking if you know where your children are, and the police are scared to death of devil-worshipping cults. It also looks great, with the yellow lights of home sickly rather than comforting and red warning lights flashing in the darkness. The film is very well cast. Smit-McPhee (The Road) brings out the weird side of Owen nicely, but isn’t as likeably hapless as Kåre Hedebrant. Moretz (Kick-Ass) is excellent, but by making Abby slightly more childlike than Lina Leandersson she loses something of the ethereal quality. Jenkins (Six Feet Under, The Visitor) invests The Father with an impressive amount of heart and sensitivity while remaining appropriately horrifying, while Elias Koteas (Crash, Zodiac) is underused as the dogged detective.
There are two major obstacles to everyone’s good work. Firstly, Let the Right One In was released very recently. Even if it wasn’t as beloved as it is, everyone would still have a very clear idea of what the characters should look like and how the scenes should play out. Smit-McPhee and Moretz are excellent but they aren’t my Eli and Oscar, which meant I wasn’t as emotionally involved. Secondly, because Reeves insists on sticking so closely to the original, the majority of the scenes run the risk of direct comparison. The Father’s murders are different and among the film’s best sequences, and the cat-attack has thankfully disappeared, but otherwise it’s the same again. And when it’s stacked up against Let the Right One In, it fails. The swimming pool and “What happens if I don’t invite you in?” scenes are the most notably inferior.
Reeves’ film is desperate to be loved but there’s just not enough distance between the two films to justify its existence. The experience is somewhat similar to watching the film of Watchmen. It’s a faithful to the point of pointlessness, well-acted, well-shot, curio that’s worth a look if you’re interested, but otherwise; go back to the source material.
Does the job, and is the best we could have hoped for, but it’s ultimately pointless and a little hollow. If you haven’t seen the original you’ll enjoy it, but I’d strongly recommend you to watch Alfredson’s film first.