Viciously bullied by his classmates and neglected by his divorcing parents, 12-year-old Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee) finds a friend in fellow outcast, Abby (Chloe Moretz), the troubled, barefoot girl who lives in the heavily curtained apartment next door. A string of grisly murders puts the town on high alert and Abby’s increasingly bizarre behaviour leads the imaginative Owen to suspect she's hiding an unthinkable secret.

Based on the best-selling Swedish novel Lat den Ratte Komma In (Let the Right One In) by John Ajvide Lindqvist, and the highly-acclaimed film of the same name.

A thoughtful adaptation, albeit an unnecessary one.

When a favourite foreign film is earmarked for an English language remake, the temptation is overwhelming to let the hackles to go up, the knives to come out and the chorus of disapproval to commence its vocal warm-ups.

Such was the response when Tomas Alfredson’s outstanding Let The Right One In was singled out for an English language overhaul, barely 12 months after its original cinema release.

Let the Right One In
(itself an adaptation of the acclaimed novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist) was one of 2009’s best, so there was an element of 'don’t mess with a classic’ in the critical outcry that met news of its intended reversioning. To learn that Matt Reeves was adapting and directing did little to assuage those concerns; his real-time shaky-cam disaster epic Cloverfield left this reviewer cold (and dizzy). That film was the antithesis of understatement, so it was alarming to know that its chief architect was taking the reins of a contemplative Scandinavian story of adolescence and its inner demons. The best one might hope for was a carbon copy of the original. At worst? 'Tween Twilight'. Either way, what’s the point?

You could make a full-time pursuit out of railing against the wisdom of remaking quality foreign films but frankly, it’s a futile exercise. The sad reality is that for all the critical acclaim it enjoyed, Let the Right One In made only $250,000 during its 2009 Australian cinema run. Though its renown has increased from the subsequent DVD release and recent first-run screening on SBS ONE, there is a significant proportion of the population that either wasn’t aware of or interested in, a little Swedish thriller about a bullied boy and a headstrong girl who also just happens to be a vampire.

Rightly or wrongly, there’s a far better chance that those same audiences will be interested in a not-so-little American thriller about a bullied boy and a headstrong girl who also just happens to be a vampire.

Fortunately, the Transatlantic translation, Let Me In, pays deference to its predecessor, so if you only watch one pointless remake this year, make it this one.

It’s impossible to resist direct comparisons between the two films when a great many of Let Me In’s scenes reflect Let The Right One In, almost shot-for-shot. (Indeed, reflection looms large in Let Me In, not least in the glass and mirrored surfaces placed prominently within the frame.)

To his credit, Reeves – a stated fan of the book and of its author’s own adaptation – draws upon local themes to acclimatise the concept to its new North American setting. He sets the story in New Mexico in March 1983, in the weeks surrounding Ronald Reagan’s era-defining 'Evil Empire’ speech.

'Evil’ is all around 12 year-old Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee) but its manifestations have little in common with those preoccupying both his President and his mother (The Soviets and Satan, respectively). Owen’s vision of Evil incarnate is the little thug who makes his life a living hell on a daily basis. The bully and his accomplices single out the waif-like, elfin-featured Owen, who internalises a wellspring of hatred for every atomic wedgie, spitball and S-bend dunking he is forced to endure.

Owen’s visceral experience of thuggery contradicts his religious mother’s unstinting faith in divine protection. The isolated boy’s only outlet for the squirming resentment lies in enacting his switch-blade revenge fantasies each night, from the safety of his apartment block courtyard.

The aloof and intimidating Abby (Chloe Moretz) moves into the apartment next door and her opening words to Owen ('I can’t be friends with you") elicit fears that a new creep is encroaching on his home turf. The strange, barefoot girl with the curious aroma has her reasons for keeping a distance, but gradually she becomes Owen’s confidante and protector.

Smit-McPhee is an excellent choice for Owen; he consolidates his early expertise in similar Man-child roles (Romulus, My Father and last year’s excellent The Road) and delivers variations of uncertainty/confusion/fear /rage at decibels much lower than his contemporaries might have pitched. Moretz, too, is his worthy foil in the role of the pre-teen saddled with dark urges. Her scenes with Richard Jenkins are especially strong, in the intelligent way they tease out themes that few wide release films would touch with a barge pole.

Reeves stays faithful to the essence of Let The Right One In’s key scenes but he opts for explanation where allusion would do. This is especially so with the depiction of Owen’s mother; her disembodied mid-shots make for an effective display of mother/son estrangement, but Reeves adopts movie shorthand for 'unreachable parent’ by making her a religious zealot with an alcohol problem. Disappointingly (but maybe not surprisingly), Reeves also uses CGI to depict Abby’s vampire scenes. The Gollum-like transformation is both distracting and unnecessary; isn’t it far more shocking to witness a little girl devouring a victim than it is to watch an animated creature fulfilling its beastly obligations? (Admittedly, these two major deviations may not register a blip with new audiences.)

Let Me In deserves attention for its thoughtful rendition of adolescent torment and its restrained handling of the so-hot-right-now vampire genre. If that attention draws new fans to its top-shelf source material, all the better.

Watch an interview with Matt Reeves here

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1 hour 55 min
In Cinemas 14 October 2010,
Wed, 02/23/2011 - 11