Let Me In

Fri, Nov 5, 2010, 00:00

Directed by Matt Reeves. Starring Kodi Smit-McPhee, Chloë Moretz, Elias Koteas, Richard Jenkins, Sasha Barrese, Cara Buono 16 cert, gen release, 115 min

The director of Cloverfielddelivers a surprising powerful American reboot of the recent Swedish horror classic, writes Donald Clarke

DO YOU savour cinematic chills? Do you seek out films that stir up despair and mortal terror? Well, have a glance at some of the US remakes of crossover foreign-language pictures.

For example, Win Wenders’s Wings of Desirehad its flaws, but it didn’t deserve the rampaging atrocity that was City of Angels. How on Earth did George Sluizer’s terrific The Vanishing(1988) generate George Sluizer’s wretched The Vanishing(1993)? The less said about Roland Emmerich’s Godzillathe sooner we’ll be able to face a solid meal again.

Though its box-office takings were modest, Tomas Alfredson’s Let the Right One Inremains one of the most adored films of the past five years. If you have seen it, you probably cherish every eerie second. Telling the story of a lonely child who befriends a vampire – apparently a young girl, but actually ancient – the picture perfectly blended bleak horror with coming-of-age dynamics.

The American remake was sure to be a catastrophe. Right? Wrong. Even if you don’t care for Let Me In,you will have to acknowledge that it is endlessly respectful. Indeed, if anything, Matt Reeves’s film might be a little too deferential to the original and to John Ajvide Lindqvist’s source novel.

Set in snowy (who knew?) New Mexico, Let Me Infeatures an apartment complex very similar to that in the Alfredson film. A similar sense of clammy dread hangs about the place. Even the period dress – early-1980s winter wear – appears to have emerged from the same unlovely shop. There are, nonetheless, enough new energies to interest the most hardened admirer of Let the Right One In.

The story remains very much as before. Kodi Smit-McPhee, juvenile lead in The Road,stars as Owen, a shy, damaged child living in sour equilibrium with his single mum. Owen is horribly bullied at school and largely ignored at home.

Life takes a positive turn when a young girl named Abby (Chloë Moretz from Kick-Ass), accompanied by a sad middle-aged man (Richard Jenkins), moves into the apartment next door. Before long, Abby and Owen are sharing jokes and communicating through the wall by Morse code.

We, however, know that Abby is a vampire and that the man devotes his evenings to slaughtering citizens and carting fresh blood back to his charge. Soon Owen also learns this grim intelligence.

So what’s the point of the remake? Well, at the risk of sounding patronising, Let Me Inallows punters scared off by foreign-language films an opportunity to savour a story they might not otherwise have encountered. The change in location (and language) also adds some surprising undercurrents.

The inherent nihilism of the piece seems all the more chilling when, knowing mainstream American films, one constantly expects a reassuring compromise that never arrives. In particular, one brief shot presses home the unnerving intelligence that, should Abby and Owen become companions, the boy may eventually turn into a version of the weary, emotionally eviscerated creature given such wretched poignancy by the reliable Richard Jenkins.

Reeves has, moreover, altered certain emphases in quite impressive fashion. The bullying is more savagely humiliating and, by showing the main tyrant suffering his own torments, Let Me In stresses the depressingly cyclical nature of petty persecutions.

The end result proves that such reinventions can be worth attempting. It also confirms Reeves, director of the fine though very different Cloverfield, as a film-maker of formidable emotional intelligence. If for nothing else, the film deserves respect for the courage of its grim, unrelenting convictions.

The best horror film of the past decade has become one of the first great horror flicks of the new one. What a turn-up.