Thursday, September 30, 2010

Baddest Next-Door Neighbor. Ever.

When I first saw the promotional material for the American remake of Let The Right One In, the Swedish film of now almost mythic proportions, I wasn’t terribly optimistic. Fact #1: I don’t usually go for horror films, and Let Me In looked nigh terrifying. Greetings and salutations, flaming hospital beds. Fact #2: American remakes of foreign films are often unnecessary, not to mention insulting. Ah, so those little American idiots can’t keep up with a couple lines of white text at the bottom of the screen? No problem! Let’s stupefy the things that made the idea work in the first place and make everything ten times bigger, louder, and more incoherent. No big deal.

Having gotten some (a mere fraction!) of that veritable load off of my chest, I’m pleased and somewhat surprised to put forth that Let Me In is actually quite good. As I have not seen the original, I was able to go into the film fresh, with only a basic understanding of the premise to guide me.

In the current climate of films like The Twilight Saga, The Vampire’s Assistant, and so on, Matt Reeves’ direction is remarkably elegant and, for the most part, restrained, choosing a wonderfully classical style of shot construction that eschews a lot of camera whirlygigging for the beauty of careful composition. Instead of piling on the camp, the story takes the idea of a young boy’s encounter and eventual friendship with a vampire trapped in the body of a 12 year old girl very seriously. To its credit, by sticking with a real-world setting and lived-in characters, Let Me In allows the viewer to experience the fantastical world of the film on its own terms, without a ridiculously over-arching series of convoluted vampirical mythology to deal with. Kodi Smit-McPhee deserves particular merit for his strong turn as Owen, the film’s emotional anchor. He may only be 12, but this kid’s got range and the potential for a bright future.

Unfortunately, the film’s not perfect, with the chief problem being several poorly executed VFX shots of Abby in full vampire mode. Some early comments have noted that she looks like Gollum, although I contend that Gollum looked better. A lot better. I would have much preferred that Reeves had simply cut from one location to another without feeling the need to show exactly how she arrived there. One of the film’s best moments involves Abby arriving at a second-story apartment and, when pressed as to how she got there, she simply says, “I flew.” I’d have much rather seen more of those moments instead of unnecessary, second-rate attempts at digital trickery. While these moments don’t torpedo Let Me In, they certainly slow the film’s momentum, which is unfortunate, given the wonderful balance between reality and fantasy that much of the film strikes.

In lesser hands, Let Me In might have been another gorefest of a bloodsucker flick, or even worse, another overwrought exploration of teenage angst as filtered through the vampire tradition. While it'll certainly be bread-and-butter to folks who love vampires, this film is a rare thing. Let Me In is a genre piece that appeals to a wider audience without (much) compromise, a modern action film that pays the viewer the respect of actually allowing him/her to see what's going on, and a genuinely entertaining experience.

Recommended: 4 stars (out of 5)

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