Let Me In
Whenever Hollywood does a remake of any film there is a certain amount of reflexive groaning about how we've run out of new ideas. The protestations and complaints get especially deafening when a remake is made of a foreign film, particularly one made only a couple years prior, and people soon start acting like the very idea of it all is simply shameful. The original usually ends up being considered the superior of the two films, but sometimes this seems to happen almost by default, rather than due to any comprehensive analysis of each film's respective merits.
I have seen both Let the Right One In and Let Me In numerous times and I highly enjoy them both. I had to have a real debate with myself when it came to which one I like better and ultimately, which one deserved to end up on this countdown. What I finally decided is that, even though both films beautifully establish an aching, melancholy atmosphere, feature deeply troubling moments and boast some truly stunning cinematography, Let Me In edges the original out as the better film overall.
A big part of my preference for Let Me In comes down to the cast. Young Kodi Smit-McPhee turns in a remarkable performance as Owen, the bullied child of separated parents who lives with his seemingly depressed and unobservant mother in a drab apartment complex. Chloe Grace Moretz is customarily superb in the role of Abby, an eternal 12 year old who is at once one of the most complex and most intimidating vampires the cinema has given us in recent memory. Admittedly, Moretz's portrayal is aided by better special effects than Let the Right One In could afford, but the fact that Abby is every bit as sympathetic as she is scary is due entirely to the efforts of the actress and her director, Matt Reeves. Richard Jenkins is a tempest of pent up emotion as Abby's devoted caretaker; a solemn and reluctant killer who keeps trying to bring fresh blood home for Abby no matter how badly he botches his string of murders. One of the most disturbing and startling tricks Let Me In pulls off is that it manages to make the viewer root for this bungling murderer, putting us into his shoes and making us more concerned about what might happen to him and Abby if he gets caught than we are about what he intends to do to each of his victims. Dylan Minnette is appropriately menacing and despicable as Kenny, the bully who delights in tormenting Owen and is pretty much the bane of the poor boy's existence. And, of course, it's always great to see Elias Koteas, although he maintains a more or less even keel throughout the film in his portrayal of the policeman investigating the rising violence as it takes continually darker and stranger turns.
One of the strongest parts of Tomas Alfredson's Let the Right One In is Ika Nord's portrayal of Virginia, a character who has a considerably smaller role in the American version. Except for her, though, the rest of the cast of the original is merely serviceable. While some of the work done by the actors in that film is no doubt lost when it's viewed with English dubbing, it's also true that better voiceover talent could have been chosen to read the characters' lines for them. I'm accustomed to dubbing in foreign films that doesn't quite seem natural and has an awkward flow to it, but some of the voice work done here is just flat out absurd. The voices of the 2 young leads (in this version named Oskar and Eli, instead of Owen and Abby) are actually more or less okay, but the voice actor who reads lines for the character of Virginia's husband makes every line so corny that he's almost painful to listen to. What's worse is that a bizarre choice was made to get an apparently female voice actor to read for the bully character in this version. Coupled with the equally bizarre choice of casting a rather diminutive actor to play the bully, the end result is that this character both looks and sounds something considerably less than fearsome and it immediately becomes hard to understand why Oskar doesn't simply punch the little nuisance in the face and be done with it.
I also have some issues with Kare Hedebrant, who plays Oskar, and Per Ragnar, who was cast in the Swedish version as Eli's guardian. While Hedebrant has moments of excellence throughout the film, there are also numerous swimming pool scenes in which the young actor blatantly sucks in generous mouthfuls of pool water. There are also scenes which take place outdoors in frigid weather where snot drips visibly from the young man's nose. Perhaps these were deliberate touches Alfredson put into his film to make it seem more realistic, but frankly, they just end up being extremely distracting and unnecessary. There were times I found it extremely difficult to focus on the plot of the film because I just wanted to figure out a way to reach into the screen and yank Oskar's face out of the pool before he drank the whole thing or introduce him to the wondrous invention known as "the tissue". As for Ragnar, he had a lot in common with Richard Jenkins in Let Me In but there was something more callous and brutal about his performance. I just couldn't sympathize with him the way I did with Jenkins, so Let the Right One In ended up lacking the added creep factor of making me feel like I was inside the shoes of a man who love had turned into a killer.
Let Me In also added heartfelt touches that took it to another level for me. One of the most affecting moments happens near the end, when Elias Koteas' policeman discovers Abby in the bathtub that she sleeps in during the day. Owen ends up creating the distraction Abby needs to pounce on the cop and turn him into her latest meal. The man lays there, still alive but helpless, while Abby feeds. He reaches out his hand to Owen, who seems to reach out his own hand to help him. At the last second, Owen grabs the doorknob instead and closes the bathroom door so he doesn't have to watch Abby go about her gory task. It's an extremely powerful scene which makes it abundantly clear that Owen has made an important choice. Whether or not he made the right one is a question I still wrestle with every time I watch this film.
The remake is also smart about what it chooses to extricate from the story. While Let the Right One In is probably more faithful to the John Ajvide Lindqvist novel which inspired both films, its devotion to recreating the text of that 480 page tome led it to include subplots that a movie version arguably doesn't have time to fully elaborate on. An extremely personal revelation about Eli ends up being suddenly thrust at the viewer in a way that seems almost tasteless. Probably for the benefit of those who have read the book, Let Me In hints at the same revelation, but stops short of graphically displaying it. This allows anyone who hasn't read the novel to enjoy the movie without the possibility of being confused about why it suddenly becomes child pornography for a split second.
Let Me In is a tighter, more cohesive film than the original that boils its story down to the bare, raw essentials while adding poignant moments and eliminating needless distractions. As such, it more effectively draws me into its tale of a grim cycle that can't help but repeat itself. Owen and Abby are two incredibly well developed characters who virtually throb with loneliness. Once they meet, it quickly becomes hard to imagine either of them surviving without the other. The strength and resilience of their bond is deeply moving yet its sweetness is tempered by the knowledge of what will inevitably result from their relationship. Abby will always need another human caretaker and Owen will be forced to commit acts of horrendous violence in order to meet her biological needs. Once he has aged beyond his usefulness, or been caught in the act like the devoted guardian who came before him, Abby will be forced to draw someone else in, reluctantly or not. Although soaked in a lot more blood than most, it's a potent allegory for love, how far we're willing to go to preserve it and the bone deep pain which comes from outliving it.
My next installment is coming soon, so be on the lookout!