For the uninitiated, the impeccably-titled Swedish vampire romp Låt den rätte komma in (“Let The Right One In”) was released in 2008 to the delight of both horror aficionados and those conceited sloanes who animalistically gratify themselves on every single foreign title which garners the recognition of the Western press. The English-language remake, then, struck fear into the hearts of many – would John Ajvide Lindqvist’s lonely child protagonist become a backwards baseball cap-wearing cretin who high-fives vampire cheerleaders whilst performing a nosegrind at the half-pipe? Thankfully (or not, depending on the state of your mental health) this is not the case, as Let Me In is a remake of the highest quality, even if this means it sticking particularly closely to its predecessor.
The story – set in snow-smothered New Mexico, 1983 – revolves around troubled 12-year-old, Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee), whose social schedule is dominated by bouts of schoolyard bullying, brooding over his parents’ divorce and practicing threatening his tormenters at knifepoint in the mirror like a pint-sized Travis Bickle. That is until he befriends elusive new neighbour, Abby (Chloë Moretz), a barefooted vampire sprog cursed with a bloodlust sated nightly by her faux-father/amateur serial killer (Richard Jenkins), whose resultant trail of carnage soon attracts the attention of a local police detective (Elias Koteas).
Perhaps the film’s chief blight is the fact that those familiar with its Scandinavian forerunner will struggle to shake the innate feeling of déjà vu which surrounds Let Me In, the supposed ‘Americanisation’ amounting to little more than a language switch and proceedings being draped in the moralistic trappings of 1980s Reaganite America. The result is hardly in the league of Gus van Sant’s shot-for-shot remake of Psycho (spits on floor), but one can’t help shaking a vague, woozy feeling of pointlessness.
Granted, there are some minor changes – director Matthew Reeves both streamlines and invigorates by omitting some peripheral characters and reshuffling certain scenes, even if making the film’s opening an event which happens an hour into the running time slightly undermines the film’s steady escalation of dread. Additionally, the film’s standout set-piece – a backseat POV shot of an especially animated car accident – is impressive but ultimately little more than window dressing.
However, those coming to this film unencumbered by any knowledge of the original will likely be impressed. Doing away with the preening, zeitgeist-hogging bloodsuckers of late, Let Me In provides a subtle, sincere child’s-eye view of the wonderful word of vampirism, working as both a conventional horror movie (the claret runs satisfyingly freely in the film’s occasional spasms of violence) and a decidedly unconventional picture of childhood friendship culminating in a gloriously deplorable denouement.
Likewise, the film is very much carried by its invariably excellent cast, particularly the two young leads. Smit-McPhee excels in capturing the lonely, strange nuances of an unhappy childhood, with Moretz – unrecognisable sans purple wig and potty mouth – also delivering a note-perfect performance as a girl who’s “been twelve for a really long time,” imbuing her character with both world-weariness and a feral danger. Able support is provided by both Elias Koteas (seemingly providing his best Robert Duvall impression) and Richard Jenkins, who presumably finds minding a preteen Nosferatu easier than frizzy-haired morons Will Ferrell and John C Reilly.
In sum, Let Me In is a remake matches the original in almost every way but never strives to surpass it, and in this respect disappoints. That said, newcomers will no doubt be entranced by its jet black depiction of fear, friendship and fangs and thus the film comes highly recommended – it may lack the sucker-punch originality of its predecessor, but retains both its trademark heart and gall.