Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Let Me In

Let Me In puts viewers - and more so, reviewers - in a quandary. It's a remake of last year's acclaimed Swedish vampire hit Let the Right One In, a film that was less a genre piece than an exquisitely atmospheric drama with supernatural trimmings. Adapted from John Ajvide Lindqvist's novel, it was also one of the best films of 2009, hauntingly shot by Tomas Alfredson. Now, the inevitable American remake has arrived, and immediately invites eye-rolling. Blimey, can't those Yanks leave well enough alone?

But the rub is Let Me In is a fine piece of work (the glowing reviews also bear this out). However, this only serves to increase the frustration. Because it is so faithful to its cinematic forefather, rigorously, devotedly faithful in fact, it calls into question which film we're enjoying: Let Me In, or its predecessor? Make no mistake: Let Me In differs from Let the Right One In in several respects. But the parts it does best are also the ones that worked effectively first time around. More confusingly, the differences are no discernible improvement, but simply that: differences, seemingly dropped in to distinguish this film from the other.

Added to that, Cloverfield director Matt Reeves' take on both novel and film (under the newly resurrected Hammer label) has a thankless mountain to climb in the form of remake prejudice, something that invites scorn at the best of times. Yet this shouldn't blind people to the qualities of Let Me In: this is a remake done well, too well in fact. Instead of shifting the scenario drastically and altering characters and situations, Reeves has done, ironically, the unexpected, and skewed very close to his inspiration.

It should be no surprise that Reeves, given his American sensibility, chooses to make explicit what was previously implicit; painting in more obvious emotional strokes (there's more overt crying in this version) and sacrificing the eerie, chilly ambiguity of the Swedish original. On the other hand, it may simply be more emotionally direct. Certainly, Michael Giacchino's liturgical score is far more apparent. Regardless, the tone is different. Much of this stems from the warmer background hues of the apartment complex, in which bullied, lonely Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee, as good here as he was in The Road) forges an unlikely connection with young vampire-next-door, Abby (Chloe Moretz, more affecting than she was in Kick Ass).

Although they never approach the cryptic ambiguity of the chemistry between Kare Hedebrant and Lina Leandersson, Smit-McPhee and Moretz forge brilliantly adult performances that belie their tender years, and are a compelling centre, even if the dynamics have changed. Elsewhere, Reeves has altered the flow of the narrative, reducing Owen's father to a single-scene phone conversation while by contrast subtly humanising Abby's 'protector' (a suitably weather beaten Richard Jenkins). He's also honed in largely on his child protagonists' plight at the expense of supporting performers, Elias Koteas' unnamed cop now embodying the principles of the Swedish community seen in the earlier film. Young Owen's naive sexual curiosity is also adapted in more blatant coming of age terms (as evidenced in his peeping tom activities spying on his neighbours).

Yet it's the ostentatious additions that are more troubling, dramatic gear changes that serve as high-powered distractions while adding little in terms of improvement. Regardless of its technical prowess, an in-car crash point of view shot would seem more appropriate for the likes of Jason Bourne, while the ropey CG vampire attacks are also jarring (although, to swing the boat the other way, Reeves wisely dispenses of the daft cat attack scene). More puzzling however is the decision to foreground the sense of time and place to no great avail. So, while a title card solemnly informs us this is 1983 New Mexico and Pacman is in full rage in the arcades and The Vapors' Turning Japanese dips in and out, it never amounts to a substantial change in direction.

Again, it's a film with an identity crisis, an identity crisis that infectiously passes on to the viewer like a dreaded case of vampirism. That one should watch Let the Right One In is without question, subtitles be damned (never was there a more ridiculous excuse to avoid watching such a beautifully crafted piece of cinema). But to dismiss Let Me In out of hand is also nonsensical, given that it is crafted with intelligence and care, a firm rebuke to our much derided remake culture. Perhaps it's best to drop the 'remake' tag altogether and instead see it as an American companion piece to its Swedish counterpart, one that should belong as half of a special supernatural DVD pack encompassing both Swedish and American attitudes to vampire lore. So, while it may not be the right one to let in, let it in anyway, if only out of sheer curiosity.

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