See that poster up there? At the top of it there’s a bit of blurb that says “A Film By Matt Reeves”. This is interesting because this is less a film by Matt Reeves as is it an impersonation of a film by Tomas Alfredson. I’ll explain fully in the review but I just find it funny because this is not his film at all. Click the jump for my review!
In my review of True Grit (Yup, referencing that again) I mentioned how that film was not a remake as it was an adaptation of the original book. It shard elements of the John Wayne film but it was it’s own beast. Let Me In is a 100% remake of Tomas Alfredson’s Let the Right One In. Obviously the basic story is very similar but on top of that every shot, performance and location, every plot point and visual metaphor is Alfredson’s. Right down to the mother of Owen (The US version of Oscar played by Kodi Smit-McPhee) barely being shown fully on camera. She’s always out of focus, obscured by an object or off the edge of the shot. Just as Alfredson did. Here’s the issue with that directorial choice. For Alfredson that was a symbolic choice informed by his distant relationship with his celebrity father. All the parent figures in Let The Right One In were shot like this and so they are in Let Me In. To add to this Alfredson did a very similar directorial choice when it came to George Smiley’s wife in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. I’d go as far as to say you could begin to point to it as a trademark of his films. Unless Matt Reeves was a big fan of Charlie Brown and felt that the parents should be out of shot as they were there he is just copying here.
It goes beyond that one design choice though. The location, despite being thousands of miles away, looks nearly identical. They’re shot in the same manner. The same colour pallets are used, the same lighting choices are used. Everything looks the same. You could say that he was paying homage to the Swedish film. Maybe he, like many of the fans, felt that this remake was not needed and so he just tried to do a carbon copy instead of trying to make a mark as a director by putting his own mark on the film. No director should ever be scared of making a film his own regardless of the source material. Even Zack Snyder put his trademarks all over Watchmen and that’s based on one of the most revered comic books of all time. Based on this work Mat Reeves is a worker drone of a director, afraid to make his own mark, cut to fit whatever shape hole he is needed in.
I’ve started off quite harsh here but the lack of creativity in the films direction bugged me for the entirety of it’s running time. Judged as it’s own work Let Me In is a very well made and carefully paced film. Performances are strong and suitably naturalistic throughout. There’s a few pop songs from the 80s there that seem to be there for the sake of hammering in the films time period. There’s also an abundance of “remember those” moments with various 80s sweets and props. There is one direction choice I did find to be smartly done. We never meet Owen’s father in this film. There’s one telephone conversation but that’s it. We never see him. This keeps him at a distance and when Owen reaches out to him for help he stays this distant entity. It’s simpler than the pace breaking scenes between Oscar and his father in the original film.
The story is really, at it’s heart, about a socially maladjusted boy finding comfort, and first love, in a new friend that happens to be a vampire. She’s as much of an outsider as he is. Owen craves some form of closeness but he gets nothing from his mother and the only person who acknowledges him other than Abbey is the school bullies. Oddly despite having a very similar pacing to the original there is a few elements missing. None of the other residents in the block Owen and Abbey (Chloe Grace Moretz BTW) live on are there for any purpose other than to be food. In Let The Right One In they had basic characters that had a small role to play in the story. Here they’re meat. A few of the subtleties of the original are made less so such as a photograph of Abbey with a young lad we are led to believe is her “Father”. On top of that any scenes involving blood are quite a bit more graphic possibly as a concession to the modern horror fan.
There is one aspect of Let Me In that bugged me on the original but is also present here. The film goes a long way to creating a believable vampire myth. The handling of collecting blood for Abbey is done in a realistic and gruesome manner. When Abbey does feed she’s tearing a chunk out of her victims neck to get to that sweet sweet bloody goodness. What bugs me is that the supernatural does creep in a little. I can accept the increased strength and bursting into flames. It’s the fact that she has to be invited in that I find weird. That’s not something that could be based in reality. If the consequence was something simple like it made her sick then you could imagine it could be a psychological issue she has. Instead blood starts pouring through her skin all because no-one asked her in. It might be nitpicking but to me it’s like adding gods and demons into the Dexter novels. it just seems at odds with the rest of the film.
What we end up with here is a well made film that if you have never seen the Swedish original you’re likely to quite enjoy. But if you have seen Let The Right One In you’ll spend the whole film distracted by how much it attempts to copy it’s style and tone. This may as well have been a shot for shot remake like the !998 Psycho remake. It adds nothing to the story and even loses a little and it fails to be it’s own film. There are a few unique moments such as an inventive car crash scene but it’s too little to make Let Me In stand out on it’s own. It’s a shame because what I end up taking away from this is an uncertainty that Matt Reeve’s May not be capable of directing a truly good film without wither someone guiding him or a strong source to work from. He also directed Cloverfield, now think about which Hollywood director you associate with that film. I very much doubt it was Matt Reeves. Let Me In is certainly an above average film but I really do suggest only bothering to watch it if you’ve never seen the original. Your enjoyment of it will be greater if that is the case.