Bullied at school and profoundly timid, Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee) tries to keep his head down in an oppressive world. TV broadcasts of Ronald Reagan musing about evil chitter away in the background amidst arguments between his mother and father about their divorce proceedings, and all Owen can think about is the trio of bullies who mercilessly pound him whenever they encounter him at school. To try and block out the negativity, he sits on the jungle gym in the center of his dilapidated New Mexico apartment complex, humming the commercial jingle for Now and Later as he eats them, but one day, he turns around and discovers he's not alone. His new companion is Abby (Chloe Grace Moretz), a quiet girl who insists "I can't be your friend" and doesn't wear shoes or socks despite an inch of snow on the ground. What Owen doesn't realize is that Abby is a vampire.
When it was announced that Cloverfield director Matt Reeves would be writing and directing an American remake of Tomas Alfredson's Let the Right One In, the film fan community reacted negatively, to say the least. The original was only released two years ago, to plenty of acclaim, and there didn't seem to be much purpose to relocating the film, other than saving lazy people the trouble of reading subtitles and to capitalize on the vampire craze brought on by Twilight (I can think of nothing more embarrassing for a good vampire movie than to have to ride the coattails of the Twilight franchise). A year and a half later, the final product is an undeniably well-made film that evokes many of the same emotions as the original, as well as a few new ones that Reeves is bringing to the table.
Much of the review buzz thus far has focused on the fact that Reeves steals shots from Alfredson, as well as lines from John Ajvide Lindqvist (in case the viewer is curious, the credits note that the film is based on both Lindqvist's novel and his adaptation done for the original film). Frankly, I wonder how many people are basing these things on memory alone; I can say with certainty that the vast majority of the visuals here are different. It certainly feels the same: both movies are chilling, sparse, and slow, but I think Reeves deserves more credit as a director in terms of originality (as much as anyone who's directed a remake is justified in receiving, anyway). He also deserves points for keeping some of the book's less mainstream elements -- the kind of things that could easily made an American audience laugh if done wrong -- without too much pandering or a need to explain why everything is the way it is when it comes to Abby's condition. He could probably pick up the pace in at least a few scenes (a third-act reveal of Abby in a bathtub is drawn out just short of the point where it'd become unintentionally funny), and the movie's CG is just plain awful, but those are his only major missteps.
The main draw is the performances by Smit-McPhee and Moretz, who have a warmth and connection that may even be more charming and wonderful than their foreign counterparts (Kåre Hedebrant and Lina Leandersson). Moretz in particular exudes a certain type of warmth that feels almost wistful, as if she's remembering a part of her she lost a long time ago. Owen is smitten and unable to hide it, which fuels the movie's occasional joke, but Moretz acts almost motherly, in a way, and gives the impression she's longing for his naïveté and innocence. It is interesting how her advice to him about confronting his bullies ("hit them harder than you dare") seems dangerous, but instead manages to preserve that innocence; one gets the impression that Owen might grow up to be a bitter, anti-social shut-in if Abby weren't there to help him. I'm not sure about the decision to make Abby's transformation more noticeable was a wise one (it reeks of B-movie cheese in an otherwise artfully made film), but Moretz's performance is otherwise perfect.
Two adults encroach on Owen and Abby's space: Abby's mysterious guardian (Richard Jenkins) and a local cop (Elias Koteas). There is a strong sense that Owen could easily turn into Abby's next guardian, a tired old man, nurturing what's left of his crumbling heart, but even if that's half a life, it's hard to picture what else the world has to offer Owen other than more mac and cheese dinners and relentless abuse. He tries to ask his father on the phone if evil really exists, but his father brushes it off. Abby may be evil -- she kills, ferociously, without rhyme or reason -- but she offers Owen a chance to fight evil with more evil. In a world of empty, icy loneliness, having anger and blind devotion to keep you going is better than nothing.
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