Saturday, February 19, 2011

Let Me In

When I first heard there was an American remake of Let the Right One in in development I was very skeptical, as I'm sure many fans of the original were. Let the Right One in is a 2008 Swedish film directed by Tomas Alfredson that has built a very strong fan base, and the fact that Hollywood was trying to profit from it had many nerds foaming at the mouth. If you are unfamiliar with the film, I wrote a quick review of it a while back, and it is currently still on Netflix's Watch Instantly, so there is no excuse not to watch it.

Matt Reeves, who only previously directed 2008's Cloverfield, takes on the remake, and he does an excellent job in his version, titled Let Me In. However, it is very clear that this is a remake of the film, and not a re-imagining of the book, written by John Ajvide Lindqvist, which the original film is based on. Reeves uses Alfredson's film as the Bible for his version, and literally uses most of the same shots, angles, and dialogue, which is understandably enough to get fans of the original's heads exploding. Reeves does however make little touches here and there to make the film distinctive, and there are a few aspects he even gets better. The most noticeable one is the general look of the film, which is obvious upon the first shot. Alfredson's film was arguably visually bright, and used the location, which was usually covered in snow, to emphasize that.  Reeves' version simply feels very dark and gritty, but warm at the same time (also set in the '80s). It's the look Max Payne seemed to attempt but ultimately failed at (miserably). 

Amazingly, Reeves has managed to find two more child actors that don't totally suck at life, as they are both incredibly talented and have managed to create completely engaging characters on the screen. Kodi Smit-McPhee plays Owen, the lonely and bullied boy who befriends Abby. Smit-McPhee's only other experience in film was in The Road, another incredibly gritty and bleak film, but also very powerful and well-executed by the 14 year-old actor. And on the other hand, Abby, the mysterious and strange girl, is played by Chloe Moretz, who most recently had her breakout role as "Hit-Girl" in 2010's Kick-Ass. It is arguable without Moretz, who did such an excellent job convincing me that she could cut off my fingers and feed them to me, the movie would have been a failure (although it technically was, financially). Moretz's talents are only strengthened here, and it is once again fair to say that the relationship between the two is one of the most believable and engaging ones I've seen in a long time, even though the girl is a merciless vampire. 

The most stand out contribution from Reeves must be a particular scene, or more specifically shot, involving a car and actor Richard Jenkins, who is Abby's caretaker (in his most note-worthy role in a long time). The scene is probably one of the only very few that is entirely absent from the original and is a completely new addition. But it is so well done and captivating that it is almost worth the movie ticket (or rental) alone. See what happens when you try, Matt Reeves?

There are lots of changes or touches by Reeves however that aren't quite up to par with the original, or at least debatably so. One of my biggest grievances with the film is the poor use of CGI, more specifically when Abby is attacking her pray for lunch. The movements are just so inorganic that it is hard to ignore. It would be passable if we only witnessed it once or even twice, which was all we needed, but it repeats itself quite a few times throughout the film and weakens the experience, withering the line between believable and silly. The music score, composed by Michael Giacchino, is also extremely overused, as there is rarely a point in the film when it isn't heard. It is constantly trying to remind you what emotions you should be feeling, and is often just unnecessary. One last grievance is about a couple of my favorite scenes from the original, which Reeves has attempted to recreate, mostly shot by shot, but still managing with subpar results. One of the best shots of the original is when a certain woman bursts aflame in the hospital, and it is so hauntingly beautiful and mesmerizing to watch. The way the fire was created was incredibly authentic. But in the remake, Reeves seems to make a joke out of it, as not only does the fire look seriously fake, but one of the standby nurses catches on fire as well, resulting in an incredibly unnecessary death. There is also one of the last scenes in the film, which takes place in a pool. The scene is also in the original, and it is so brilliantly done that it is probably one of my all time favorites. Not attempting to top that, Reeves again simply recreates it shot by shot, but it is not nearly as intense as the original, and just left me with the feeling that it was completely unnecessary to try to recreate it in the first place. Either way, watching the fate of Owen's bullies is perhaps over the top, but strangely satisfying.

Directors aside, it is the story itself that makes the film so engaging in the first place, the connection between the two children. While the ending of the film is in a way satisfying and cheerful, and is also strangely hopeless at depressing at the same time. Enduring in the fact that of course these two have come together to understand and accept one another for who they are, but it is somber at the same time ti realize that Abby has no remorse for her actions when she kills for her own benefit, and how Owen not only tolerates it, but he accepts it. There is a scene when Owen is browsing through Abby's things in her apartment, and he comes across old pictures of her and another boy (of course Abby looks the same as she does in the present). Who is the boy? Is he her caretaker when he was a child? If this is the case, one can't help but wonder how many times Abby has gone through this relationship before, and exactly what kind future Owen is approaching. It is likely he will reach the same fate as Abbey's serial killing caretaker, all in the name of her life. Is Abby really in love with the boy, or just leading him on, as she has done possibly countless times before, all for her own sake? 

Regardless of which one you prefer, it really doesn't matter, as they both present incredible performances, themes, and visuals all around. Just take which flavor you like best and go with it. But do yourself a favor and see both. The ability to do so and compare the two films is a unique experience that is difficult to find elsewhere.