Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Let Me In

Let Me In is a 2010 remake of the 2008 Swedish cult classic, Let The Right One In. The film revolves around Abby and Owen, two twelve year olds, living in Los Alamos, New Mexico. As you might have guessed from the title, this is a vampire flick -- but it's definitely not your standard vampire fare. Whereas a traditional vampire movie typically has its vampire protagonist fighting against its own murderous nature to win the heart of its human companion, Let Me In contains no such clich├ęs. Rather than being the story of good triumphing over evil through the rediscovery of what it is to be human, this is a story of survival, adolescent torment, and the things we do for love.

The film's main protagonist, Owen, is the product of a broken home, a neglectful father, and is the victim of incessant bullying. By way of contrast, Abby is a 200 year old vampire, who lives with her supposed father, in the flat next door to Owen. As the result of continued, sometimes brutal, abuse, Owen begins to act out murderous scenarios in the form of knife attacks on unwitting trees, under the secretly watchful eye of Abby. Thus, an unlikely friendship is forged.

The strength of this movie lies in its main characters. Despite its violence and troubling themes, Let Me In has a surprisingly tender love story at its centre. This is not a sexual tale, though it is the story of young love. Despite Abby being over 200 years old, she's emotionally stuck at age twelve: which means she behaves pretty much how you'd expect any 12 year old girl to act. She's shy, awkward, and comes across as both endearing and vulnerable.

Yet, both protagonists are damaged goods. Abby is a killer, whilst Owen fantasizes about killing: which, bizarrely, makes him the perfect friend for Abby. He accepts what she is. She's the kind of person he wants to be: strong, wilful, and utterly merciless. So, it's Abby who affects a change in Owen. She teaches him to stand up for himself, to push beyond his normal limits, which Owen eventually does... with disastrous consequences.

Much of what the first movie got right, this movie also gets right. The relationship between Abby and Owen is as compelling, maybe even more so, than in the original. Chloe Moretz (who can forget her sweet mouth in Kick Ass?) is terrific in the role of Abby. She's cute, innocent, sometimes frail looking, yet, at times, both brutal and grotesque. Likewise, Kodi Smit-McPhee (surely no relation to Nanny?), pulls out all the stops as the mentally spiralling Owen. You really feel his sense of separation and despair, to the point where, when the film's conclusion finally arrives, it comes as more of a relief than a shock.

Does the film stand up to the original? In some respects, no. Let The Right One In is an experience in itself, and is so unlike anything that Hollywood produces. Silence was a big part of the first movie. Each squeak and sigh had you on the edge of your seat. Let Me In features a more conventional music score. Sure, it gets loud in all the right places, but the frights feel more manufactured than organic. The CGI is also curiously sub-par. You remember how jerky Spidey's movements were in the first Spiderman movie? There's a little of that here, which unfortunately pulls you momentarily out of your suspension of disbelief.

The American remake also differs from the original in that it's set in New Mexico (as opposed to Stockholm), though it admittedly retains that feeling of snowy dread and foreboding. They've also removed the gang of old folks (Lacke and Co.) from the script, upgrading (or maybe downgrading) them to a young couple, and there's a heavier emphasis on the police investigation surrounding the murders. The relationship between the film's two main protagonists, however, remains mostly unchanged. In fact, vast chunks of dialogue from the original movie remain, as does the superbly awkward, yet touching, relationship between Owen and Abby.

But, where this film really shines, and maybe even tops its predecessor, is in its smoother flowing narrative and improved dialogue. Admittedly, the subtitles on the original were famously dumbed down for American audiences. (Read “altered beyond all recognition”). “You can jerk off at home” was changed to “time to go home” (because Americans can't cope with masturbation references, apparently), a simple cry of “Eli” was inexplicably changed to “I'm trapped? (Que?), and “Sweet” was changed to “Ooh- hh”. Perhaps it's not fair comparing the flow of translated subtitled dialogue with actual spoken dialogue -- but it's an improvement, nonetheless.

In short, this is a great film. The cast is superb (in particular Moretz and Smit-McPhee), and, even with some of the key scenes missing, it's a challenging watch. I'm not sure this is a film that will particularly appeal to Twi-hards -- Let Me In is to the vampire genre what Watchmen was the the superhero genre. It's a warts and all portrayal of what it's really like to be a vampire. It's devoid of glamour. They kiss with bloodied mouths and it doesn't look cool. The vampire's smell, live in crappy flats, get cramps when they don't feed, and puke when they eat normal food. All in all, it's a pretty bleak existence.

But if you're after something a little different, where the vampires don't sparkle, and are curious to see what happens when a vampire enters a house uninvited, then Let Me In might just be the ticket.

Miss it at your peril.

**SPOILERS**

I found it interesting that they changed Haken's character (unnamed in this movie) from a paedophile, to that of a lifelong friend. The reasons why, I suppose, are obvious. But it does slightly alter the dynamic between Abby and Owen. Haken being just a friend, weakens their relationship. Is Owen simply a replacement for Haken, there to provide for Abby until he, like Haken, either gets caught or dies? I'm not altogether sure I like that idea. I wasn't overly keen on the paedophile angle, either, but at least it made Owen unique. An exception, rather than a necessity.

They cut the cat scene, too (an absolute hoot in the original), and the castration scar scene was also absent. (Owen still spies on Abby through the door, but, what he sees is left pretty much left to the imagination). Thus the emphasis is taken away from Abby being a castrated boy. Again, an understandable change. But it does detract somewhat from the richness of Lindqvist's original vision.

The final swimming pool scene, thankfully, remains intact, though at the end, the camera lingers on Owen's face, rather than the smiling Eli (Abby's name in the original). A shame, really, because it was one of the few times in Let The Right One In where Eli looked truly happy.

Did the film suffer as a result of these major changes? Personally, I think it lost a little of its edge. The characters seemed diluted. But, having the luxury of English speaking actors, did make me feel more connected to this movie than I did to the original. Of course, that feeling of disjointedness and isolation is probably what made Let The Right One In a truly memorable viewing experience in the first place.

All in all, a fascinating alternate vision of John Ajvide Lindqvist's original novel. Well worth a watch, even if it's just to moan at the changes.

No comments: