You remember the Karate Kid remake that came out earlier this year? It starred Jackie Chan and Will Smith’s son. When posters started going up and I started seeing trailers around town, I told all my friends that it actually looked like a really good movie. Everybody told me I was an idiot–how could that movie possibly be any good? It’s a totally soulless remake of an 80s classic that I like, grew up on, dood! And Will Smith basically bought his son the part! People told me I entirely missed the point there. Ebert gave it three and a half stars. I’m starting to think that the people who missed the point of remaking a movie are the people who will deride any remake regardless of quality, simply because it’s a remake.
The same is true of the growing trend of “localisations”, of which Let Me In is the first in what’s to be a long line. A localisation is an American remake of a foreign film for American audiences, and like any adaptation of any source, it takes respect for the original and talent on the part of those making it to make it any good. What you have to do is remove the story from its original context–in this case, early 1980s Sweden–and restage it in a setting that will be friendlier to American audiences without sacrificing the quality of the original. This is a delicate task that takes time, effort and respect for the source material to do correctly. From what I saw, the creative team behind Let Me In put as much time, effort and respect into their version of Let the Right One In as they possibly could. Astonishingly, this is an adaptation that equals the quality of its source while being its own beast.
Let Me In is the story of a young boy named Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee). Owen lives in a small town in New Mexico in the winter of 1983. He’s a lonely boy. His parents are divorcing and he’s bullied viciously at school. Without any friends, he spends most of his evenings fantasizing about his inevitable revenge and spying on his neighbours. One night, when the young couple across the common draw their curtains, a young girl and an older man move in. And despite the fact that it’s below freezing outside, she’s barefoot. This young girl is Abby (Chloë Grace Moretz). Owen and Abby find comfort and solace in each other when they both live lonely lives. This despite the fact that upon meeting Owen, her first action is to tell them that they can’t be friends.
The romance between them is perhaps my favourite of the decade, aside from Carl and Ellie in Up. They’re two bruised young children who are so quietly and desperately alone that to see them together, discovering what love is for the first time warms the heart. However, that’s not all there is to their relationship and Abby is not what she seems. As the movie plays with a certain sense of dramatic irony, it’s not really a spoiler to tell you here: Abby is a vampire. And while Let Me In may be one of my favourite romantic movies, it’s also one of the best horror films I’ve seen in a very long time.
Horror is a genre that’s steadily been moving backward throughout the last twenty years. Along with the rest of cinematic culture, it seems to have regressed back to the 1950s. Harmless thrills with L-shaped bedsheets. Let Me In isn’t a harmless film. It evokes genuine terror and is legitimately horrifying. It has a respect and cold distance toward violence and the supernatural that is sadly lacking in today’s dead-teenager movies. And like all legitimately good horror flicks, there is more going on than just walking through dark hallways and cat scares. There are characters and there is mood and there is tone. Let Me In lands all three.
Chloë Moretz has a quiet intensity I’ve never seen in a child actor before–a wisdom, a sense of age. What blows me away about her is that it’s a character. Chloë the girl, from the interviews I’ve seen, is a normal kid. Who happens to be a pants-crappingly good actor. Not to be understated opposite her is Kodi Smit-McPhee, given the thankless task of playing the normal role that no one will mention. He too is incredible in this film, giving an understated dignity to a shy, young boy. The supporting cast includes a long list of people you’ll recognize who are all keeping their emotions under wraps and playing their cards close to the chest. Notable of these is the bully, Kenny, played by Dylan Minette. The last I saw that kid, he was managing to play a perfect kid character while not breaking my suspension of disbelief. Here, he’s a vicious and cold-hearted bully; the transformation is astonishing.
When I saw Cloverfield for the first time, I was reminded frequently online of how much vocal hatred can exist over something that’s really quite simple. Matt Reeves directed that. I loved Cloverfield for being a unique perspective on the giant monster movie. It turns out Reeves must be a capable director. He’s made two of my favourite horror movies, and horror is not an easy thing to get right. In adapting this film, he cut out a number of side-plots from the original and the novel, choosing instead to focus intimately on our two protagonists. The film has come out more focused and indeed more American. It’s not better, it isn’t worse. It’s different. And it’s a good different.
Ultimately, the question everyone else will ask me is along the lines of “Is it better than the original?” and if it isn’t “Then why should I pay to see it?” I understand this mentality, but those are really simple questions to answer. Is it better? It is as good. Then why see it? Because it is as good. No matter a movie’s source material, the only criteria it should be judged on is its quality. Let the Right One In is spectacular. Let Me In is equally spectacular, and the only way we can let Hollywood know that we support seeing good films in theaters is by buying tickets.
I never ended up seeing The Karate Kid (2010). Maybe that was my loss. THREE AND A HALF STARS