“Let Me In” was a surprise. Last year I saw the Swedish film (“Let the Right One In”) on which this one is based. I was therefore appalled at the thought of an American remake. How crass would it be? How obvious? And why?
Well, I was wrong. This new version by director Matt Reeves (who also co-wrote this screenplay with John Ajvide Lindqvist, the writer of the Swedish version as well as the novel of the same name) has moments that may have been in the original, and moments that were certainly not, and all of them work to tell a story clearly and simply. Some changes from the original to Reeves’ remake made this version a little sadder and a little scarier. The script is spare, as is the scenery and landscape -- no wintertime beauty here: Cold is just cold.
Kodi Smit-McPhee is Owen, fragile, friendless, a solitary boy from a broken home in Los Alamos, New Mexico, in the early 1980s. His mother is looking for solace from Jesus and wine, his father is absent but for a voice over the telephone. Owen is thin as a rail and bullied in school. The apartment complex where Owen lives with his mother (whose face we never see) is sad and asocial. People live next door to one another without knowing each other – nothing new there. Owen watches the adults in the complex with his telescope -- I thought momentarily of “Rear Window,” but this is the story of a boy on the outside looking in.
One night two new residents move into the next-door apartment that shares a wall with Owen’s bedroom -- a young girl around Owen’s age, Abby, and a man Owen assumes is her father. Chloe Moretz plays Abby as a lonely child in one moment and a sophisticate with too much knowledge behind those eyes in the next. Her glance is piercing and appraising, while Owen’s is wide-eyed and besotted. When they first meet in the snow-covered playground, Abby tells Owen that they cannot be friends. She is still and self contained, straightforward yet secretive, and, while trying to be aloof, yearning. The relationship between these two is sweet, endearing, and ultimately incredibly sad.
Dylan Minnette is fine and obnoxious as the school bully Kenny, the bane of Owen’s existence. The remade film retains a powerful moment of compassion for Kenny as we watch his victimization by his older brother. A short scene illustrating the making of a bully is as effective here as in the original Swedish.
There are several likeable adults in the film, none of whom are effectual in protecting children from each other or the world. Clearly, their imaginations are insufficient for the reality that blindsides them.
- Richard Jenkins is caring and creepy as Abby’s … let’s call him her companion. I’d thought he was just a Renfield, committing acts far worse than Renfield ever did, but Reeves inserted a moment in this version that illuminated the relationship.
- Elias Koteas is quietly fine as the policeman investigating odd killings in the area. One of his actions brought a moment of humor – after saying something like “open up, police,” he chose to kick in an apartment door, to which action a member of the audience said, “Oh really? With what cause?” Ah, New York. I’m sure it wasn’t funny at any other showings, yet I think the audience appreciated the break in the tension. Which picked itself right up again. Once beyond that door, Reeves presents a tense scene with fine work by Koteas, Moretz, and Smit-McPhee.
- Ritchie Coster does nuanced work as the gym teacher who saw much but did too little.
While the film appears to follow the Swedish original closely, Reeves’ changes make for a deeper, sadder story. The relationships between Jenkins / Moretz, and Moretz / Smit-McPhee are not a little bit creepy and quite sorrowful; they make the film’s ending even better than that of the original film. And I never thought I’d say that!
This is a powerful film and stands quite well on its own.
~ Molly Matera, signing off, getting rid of the telescope.