Saturday, October 2, 2010

Let Me In (Review)

Spoilers Ahoy!

Over a  year ago my friend Nadia raved about a Swedish vampire movie titled Let The Right One In.  After watching it, my own praise for this film became extravagant.  Then came the day I got to read the novel.  It too proved marvelous.

News of an English-language version.  I am not someone who rejects things out-of-hand without some good reason.  Had Joel Shumacher, for example, been attached as director I'd've been nauseous.  Ditto George Lucas, Uwe Boll, a dozen others any of us could easily name.  Yet Matt Reeves was both writing and directing the film.  Matt Reeves of Cloverfield fame.  Or infamy.  Depends on one's pov, yes?

Long story short (too late!) I felt cautiously optimistic.

Now that I've seen it, my feelings are a blend of "impressed" "thrilled" and "disturbed."  Impressed because this is a movie that captures the ruthless yet tender heart of the book at least as well as the first film.  Yes, at least as well.  "Thrilled" because this was not only a good retelling of the novel into a new medium, but in some ways a startlingly original version.  "Disturbed" because this film actually creeped me out in ways the Swedish motion picture did not.

At the core, novel and films explore loneliness--how it distorts while it tortures.  Owen, the main character (Kodi Smitt-McPhee in a performance that makes me long to see him as Hamlet in a decade's time), is a very bright but disturbed boy.  His parents are mid-divorce.  Father isn't present.  Mother (whom we never quite see) numbs herself with religious platitudes and wine.  Neither seem to have the slightest idea about their child's unhappiness.  Bullied viciously at school, Owen seethes with fear and rage.  He has begun to enter puberty, yet still gobbles up candy like a very small child.  Pleasure clearly exists in such tiny amounts, at least in Owen's life, he rarely hesitates when given any chance--even if it means spying on the pretty young wife in his apartment complex.  The wall in his bedroom says it all.  It shows a view of Earth from the cold landscape of the barren moon.

Enter Abby (Chloe Grace Moretz who stole the movie Kick Ass earlier this year as Hit-Girl).  Seemingly another lonely child.  In fact, she is precisely that, but is also a vampire, who-knows-how-old.  Her companion, a man people assume is her father (Richard Jenkins, a marvelous actor in his own right), is clearly devoted to Abby beyond words.  Beyond life.  Interestingly, in the first film my reaction to this character was "Pedophile."  Here I thought it pretty clear that he was once what Owen is now--a lonely child drawn into orbit around an even lonelier, much older and more dangerous semi-child.

Much will be made of the question--Does Abby care?  Is she pursuing a ruthless agenda of recruiting another caretaker as her previous one begins to fail?  Or as one relationship disintegrates, does she happen upon someone about whom she can genuinely feel affection, even love?  Methinks the answer to that question says most about the person giving the answer.  Let Me In keeps any possible final answer on that question ambiguous.

Yet there are hints.

Abby could lie to her Caretaker.  She does not.  At his end, she could have been ruthless instead of gentle.  She didn't have to keep those photos of him for Owen to find.  When her vampire-self began to take over, she managed to save Owen.  Yet she was also hovering around Owen at the end, waiting for the chance to save him from the bullies.

My own answer to that question is--both.  She was looking for a new Caretaker, and she found him in a boy she could love.  Possibly she loves Owen more than any other.  Maybe not.  But she needs him.  She wants him.  She feels for him.  All these and more wrapped up into one emotional package.  Life is complex like that.

But what really sticks in my mind is the ending.  Owen has found his friend, escaped from Los Alamos New Mexico, been saved from his tormentors and begun a new adventure as companion/familiar of a beautiful creature out of legend.  Yet he gobbles candy.  He sings an advertising jingle.  He remains a child, one who began this story disturbed in many ways and is he much better?  Happier, yes.  For now.  He's in love.  More, I believe he is loved.  No small thing.  But he has entered the same trap that Abby inhabits.  No matter how old he gets, how much growing up can he possibly achieve really?

She is an eternal little girl.  By choosing her, Owen has condemned himself to being an eternal little boy.  Even when his hair turns gray and his teeth fall out--still just a little boy.

A little boy who will kill for her, one day.  Just as she has killed for him.  Yet will never grow up.  Neither of them.  A little bit of heaven, maybe, on top of more than a few drops of pure hell.  For them both.

Technically I will say the rhythm of the story seemed slightly rushed in a few spots.  One gets the impression of scenes cut to keep the playing time a reasonable length.  Let us hear it for Director's Extended Cuts!  Likewise a time or two the beautiful musical score intruded (although barely--mostly it meshed perfectly with events and helped to create atmosphere virtually from frame one).  For those wishing to compare, this is in now way a shot-by-shot remake.  Neither is it a hack job.  The three actors at the heart of the film carry its burden and they do not stumble.  Jenkins and Moretz are already known to me as exceptional artists.  Smitt-McPhee, with whom I'm not familiar, is a revelation.


Taliesin_ttlg said...

looking forward to this one even more now

Elgart said...

The Swedish version is awesome too!

buck said...

The only thing it has to do with the book was that it was based one a movie that was based on the book. It does an awful job telling the story found in the book and it is a movie made by a hack director. Especially seeing as he gives the littlest amount of credit to the director of the original movie.