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54th BFI London Film Festival – “Let Me In” is brittle and snaps in its final movements

“Where Let The Right One In was beguiling, Let Me In is brittle and snaps in its final movements, but Reeves cast and crew have talent to spare and one hopes that they stalk fresher prey the next time round.”

Let Me In

Directed by Matt Reeves

A palpable roar of disapproval was emitted from the online genre society when it was announced that director Matt Reeves would be following up on his well-received found footage monster movie Cloverfield with a remake of a newly anointed sacred text, 2008’s Swedish chiller Let The Right One In, which has been widely praised as one of the best horror films of the past twenty years. The claims of a US audience being unable to read subtitles notwithstanding the real question was how could Reeves possibly surpass the original ? Would his re-imaging, culled in part from the source novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist  have a more penetrating bite than its evil twin? Would its genre masked notions of childhood resilience remain intact? Would Let Me In mine alternative dimensions to the source material not captured in its pioneering predecessor? Well no, unfortunately it doesn’t as although Let Me In has much to enjoy in its lead performances and an admirable sense of atmosphere this is essentially another pointless revisit of hallowed ground, and another testament to the theory that more gore equals more scary being as redundant as Lex Luthor’s hairdresser.

Transporting the activities from a frigid Stockholm suburb to a winter shrouded Los Alamos Let Me In closely follows its progenitors narrative path – 12 year old loner Owen finds himself bullied at school and overlooked at home, his parents in the midst of a messy divorce leaving him isolated and alone. Whilst spying on his neighbours in a misplaced attempt at human interaction Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee from The Road) observes a mysterious young girl named Abby (Chloe Moretz from Kick-Ass) and her father move in next door and a hesitant friendship begins, dispelling Owen young seclusion as a new friend – and possible girlfriend – is secured. In tandem with this burgeoning friendship are a plague of mysterious, horrific murders that are affecting Owen’s school, for Abby is a vampire and her ‘father’ is her human familiar who procures for her the necessary sustenance to preserve her unholy existence – human blood.

Critics such as the UK’s Mark Kermode have made the astute observation that the difference between the films boils down to the Swedish incarnation being a film about children, one of which happens to be a vampire and the American impersonation is a film about vampires, one of which happens to be a child. Let Me In has a sense of apprehension culled from its 80’s setting and the images of Reagan talking of a ‘evil empire’ in the background; its frosty envelope, as in the original, also hints at an impending extinction. Reeves appears to be cribbing from his friend J.J. Abrams director’s manual by littering the screen with lens flashes and distorted focus effects, the craft and care that have been invested in the film are clear (apparently he was drawn to the subject as he was bullied for his effeminate nature as a child) but the ultimate effect is somewhat hollow. This sounds uncharitable if you haven’t seen the superior original (and yes, those who haven’t will have much to enjoy in this remake) – it’s certainly not a bad film and I’d recommend it for the most part even when they both share some terrible use of CGI – the cats scene in Let The Right One In being complemented by some pointless vampire attack enhancements in the case of Let Me In, in both these affectations are terribly jarring and tend to jolt the viewer out of the viewing experience.

Both Elias Koteas as a suspicious policeman and Richard Jenkins as Abby’s guardian are welcome additions, and the remake also ejects the unnecessary coverage of the tangential figures of the Stockholm suburb, keeping the focus on Owen and Abby’s dangerous affiliation. A remake or revisit to existing source material I can accept, a carbon copy of shots I cannot – and in Let Me In there are certain facsimiles which are quite disappointing, merely mirroring a pan from left to right from a right to left axis in the original when  Oskar / Owen meets Eli / Abby for the first time is not so subtle camouflage, as is an almost identical recreation of the original’s liberating penultimate sequence. Where Let The Right One In was beguiling, Let Me In is brittle and snaps in its final movements, but Reeves cast and crew have talent to spare and one hopes that they stalk fresher prey the next time round.

John McEntee

visit the official site for the 54th BFI London Film Festival