If you will recall, one of the first reviews I have ever done was a review of the original Swedish language Let the Right One In. I thought it one of the best vampire films I had ever seen. It was a film that exposed how vampirism, rather than being something erotic, was shown as something horrible and something that causes one to lose their humanity. I found it intriguing that Matt Reeves (director of the wonderfully executed Cloverfield) was directing an English remake.
Does it hold up to the original? Frankly, I am not even comfortable comparing the two. It would be like, say, comparing two different productions of Hamlet. Reeves has taken the material and turned it into his own work while keeping faithful to what the material was supposed to be to begin with. Both are strong vampire movies because vampirism is used as an allegory – in this case, for childhood and maturity. As with the original, it is one of the most effective horror films in some time time.
For those who don’t remember, the plot involves a young boy, named Owen rather than Oskar in this adaptation (and portrayed by Kodi Smit-McPhee) who is constantly bullied at school and does not come from a stable home life. One day, a family moves in next door, including a young girl named Abby (Chloe Grace Moretz). Abby does allow Owen to find some strength in himself against the bullies, but she does have a dark secret – she is a vampire and her family is responsible for a string of murders in the town.
The film depends on the child actors, and Reeves found good ones. So much depends, not on what the kids say, but how they can convey emotions that no child (and very few adults) could ever put into words. They must deal with their own budding romance, as well as the death that surrounds them. For Abby, it is part of her nature. But (unlike the Swedish version) Abby still acts like a child. And Owen is very scared – he does not try to use Abby to fight his bullies or ask her questions about her condition. He merely wants a friend, and is quite frightened when he sees her drink blood. But he cannot ignore his own feelings and the desire to be noticed.
It is those kids that show why the film works. Obviously, any child who makes a friend is going to find something that they consider unusual about them. This time, it just so happens that the friend is a vampire, but that is a minor point. In some cases, maybe the child comes from a divorced family. Maybe the child is a foreigner. Yet it is to the credit of (some) children that they can get beyond these differences and help each other.
Like I said, the material is good because vampirism is not an end, but a means. Twilight fans may go on and on about how the vampires in that franchise are meant to be some sort of symbol of love. They are wrong – the vampires represent nothing but themselves. Let me put it this way – could you tell those stories WITHOUT vampires?
No, but you can tell the story of Let Me In without vampires. Abby could be any person from a strange family who is just as neglected as Owen. No, the film is not perfect. Yes, the film does get bogged down with the detective subplot (it would have been better if the entire film was told from the point of view of Owen) and the bullies are somewhat goofy and stereotypical. But the overall effect is so powerful that I was willing to overlook these problems. The strength of the film was in the performances of the children.
The rest of the film emulates perfectly what worked about the original. The dark cold settings are replicated, and help me feel like a part of the world. The bullies in the film may be cartoonish (what sort of kids could get away with the level of violence they seem to?) but that may just be how Owen recalls them – it is always worse and hideous in memory. But the chemistry that the kids show These are kids in film who do not represent the idea of kids. They are actual kids going through problems that actual kids go through. And that is something rare to depict accurately.