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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Let Me In, Now or Later, to See this Bloody Romance

Let Me In:  4 out of 5 Stars
Abby: Can you hear me through the wall?
Owen: Only sometimes.
 In the fall of 2008, a romantic drama/horror film about two young adults forming a new relationship with one another was released.  Of course, the relationship between these two was different to say the least, as one was just a regular kid at school, while the other was a much older vampire.  This story was based on a novel that found much acclaim from those who read it.  The film was met with mass critical praise and is considered one of the best vampire films out there.  The film I am of course referring to is not Twilight, but the Swedish film Let the Right One In directed by Tomas Alfredson, and written by John Ajvide Lindqvist (who also wrote the original novel).  Now, the English-language remake has been made as Let Me In, by writer/director Matt Reeves, of Cloverfield fame.  As a result, this is a remake that manages to compare favorably with its Swedish counterpart.  While remaining quite faithful to the original, this film manages to distance itself enough by way of the personal stamp Reeves’ direction, among other aspects, gives to the film.  Consequently, this film manages to be a different sort of coming-of-age tale, with solid moments of tension sprinkled throughout.

Set in 1983 Los Alamos, New Mexico, the film follows Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee), a 12-year-old boy living with his newly divorced mom during a snowy winter.  At school, Owen appears to be bright but is constantly bullied by one particular brat.  At home, Owen seems to act out his frustration against inanimate objects and spy on those also living in his apartment complex.  One night, two new people move into Owen’s complex; a young girl, Abby, played by Chloe Moretz and an older gentlemen who cares for her, played by Richard Jenkins.  Owen of course watches, as the two move in, noticing that Abby walks barefoot through snow.

Soon, Abby and Owen begin to interact.  They become very close, and despite Abby’s strange behavior, Owen finds someone he can confide in.  Meanwhile, Abby’s guardian is up to no good, as he performs violent night activities that may be for something other than a sinister purpose.  As the film progresses, the truth about Abby becomes clear, but maybe it is not such a setback for Owen.
 The “Father”: Please don’t see that boy again.
 Despite my teaserific summation of the plot, I can safely say that this movie strikes a fine balance between being a coming-of-age romantic drama and a thrilling genre film.  Much like the original, this film does not sacrifice its steady pacing and handle on its characters for cheap thrills.  However, when the time comes to deliver on the tenser aspects required by elements of this film’s premise, it delivers the goods.

Addressing the thriller aspect first, Reeves’ does fine work with handling the several tense scenes in this film.  He applies a certain amount of logic to the way these scenes play out, and combined with some very creative visuals and a fantastic score by Michael Giacchino, the structure of suspense is greatly handled here.  While I had slight fears the thrills would be an overshadowing aspect of the remake (which they are not), they are very solid regardless.

This film is quite strong from a dramatic standpoint as well.  I can say that all the actors in this film are, as a whole, understated in their performances.  I never felt like anyone was trying to overplay their scenes (besides the bullies for obvious reasons).  Instead, all of the actors seemed to gel nicely into the sleepy but deadly world of this film.  Smit-McPhee, also great in The Road, did a wonderful job at (dare I say) playing a kid, discovering more about himself and dealing with his natural (and supernatural) environment.  Both Moretz, also great in Kick Ass, and Jenkins, also great in general, brought a quite intensity to their roles.  Jenkins, who is just a pro through and through, plays a character thinly defined by what we learn about him, but does so much through his basic behavior and with what little dialogue he has.  Moretz manages to be quite effective as an aged and deadly creature that is also warm to the concept of companionship.  Fine work from Elias “Casey Jones” Koteas as well, playing a policeman looking into the disappearances occurring around town.

Owen: Do you think there is such a thing as evil?
 What I appreciated about the film in general was how it managed to maintain what is always a big factor for me, its tone.  While not necessarily super serious throughout, the film hits it’s various dramatic and genre beats well, and does so without betraying the spirit of what is being presented.  Nervous audience laughter aside, when dealing with young romance, this film really does manage to function as a darker twist on the coming-of-age tale, following a young boy’s journey to develop a relationship.  Add to that the thriller nature of the story, and the film then manages to play with expectations about what the exact outcome of certain situations may be.

Also helping the film as a whole was how great it looked in terms of its setting.  While I’ll get to the effects later, the choice to set the film in this New Mexico location paid off, as the film has a sense of isolation that goes far in maintaining that aforementioned tone.  The lighting seemed like an important aspect as well, because given the nature of Abby’s character, all of the outdoor night time scenes (which there are of course plenty of) had a warm sort of feel to them.  Basically, I applaud the work by cinematographer Greig Fraser.

I do have some gripes.  Starting with the effects; while I am aware that this is a lower budget film, the use of CG in some scenes tended to be a bit shaky, but I am willing to give it a pass thanks to one particular sequence set inside of a car.  I was also a bit torn due to the attempts to essentially make this film accessible to all American audiences, basically saying that some of the more mysterious aspects of the original film have been cleared up in an effort to cause less confusion for general audiences.  And as much as I don’t want to criticize the film negatively based on how it stacks up to the original, I think a defining sequence towards the end was not quite as well earned here.

All that being said, this is a very good film.  In terms of recommendations, I feel that both new audiences and fans of the original will find a solid film here.  The problem I have in saying that is the hope that the brilliant Let the Right One In won’t be lost in the shuffle.   The original film is a wonderful feature to enjoy, but thankfully, this remake is very much a good film as well, even improving on some of the original’s faults.  Wrapping a tense genre film around a well done coming-of-age story, there really is enough to sink your teeth into.
Owen: Are you a vampire?
Abby: I need blood to live.
Owen: But how old are you, really?
Abby: Twelve, but…I’ve been twelve for a very long time.

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