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Let Me In

Anchor Bay Entertainment // R // February 1, 2011
List Price: $39.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted January 25, 2011 | E-mail the Author
The original Swedish adaptation of Let the Right One In is quiet, nuanced, and deeply poetic -- words not altogether used that often to describe
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a vampire movie. It uses vampirism a metaphor for isolation, desperate loneliness, abuse, and the agony of adolescence. Violence occurs in a handful of savage, explosive bursts, but rather than revel in this gore and grue, the camera resists the tempation to linger, less fascinated by viscera than by what it it impacts those who are left behind. The world is a terrible place, and the innocent have it the worst. Director Tomas Alfredson strikes a delicate tone with his film, one that's cold yet somehow deeply tender. This is an adult story told almost entirely through the eyes of twelve-year-olds. So, naturally there was concern as word spread of a looming American remake. Eh, the original had too many Swedes yapping away...where are the fangs? Why aren't there buckets of the red stuff being sloshed around? The original's kind of a love story. Can't we bump 'em up to high schoolers? At least that'd bring in the Twilight crowd, and stringing together a bunch of topless scenes sure would be a lot less creepy that way. Wait, these vampires do sparkle, right? The good news...? With Let Me In, screenwriter/director Matt Reeves (Cloverfield) has crafted an artful, intelligent adaptation of the original novel, refusing to pander or dumb it way down to play better for the mainstream. Its tone and overall approach are very much in the same vein as Alfredson's earlier take on the book. This is a very worthy remake helmed by someone who clearly has a deep passion for the original material. If anything, the greatest misstep Let Me In takes is that it's too faithful to Tomas Alfredson's adaptation. What Let Me In does, it does well, but Let the Right One In had already approached the same material in much the same way and, virtually without exception, did it even better. The end result is a remake I respect yet find completely redundant.

The names and backdrop have been Americanized, but otherwise the plot from the Swedish adaptation remains fully intact. Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is a meek, frail little twelve year old who's just trying to survive each day. His parents are splitting up. His father's been nothing but a disembodied voice on the phone for months on end, and his mom's a religious nut who's never around. Tormented relentlessly by bullies at school, the closest thing Owen has to a friend is the telescope he uses to spy on his neighbors. Los Alamos is a sleepy, lifeless little town, and Owen stares through these prison bars and dreams about what awaits on the other side. ...and then she moves next door. Abby (Chloe Grace Moretz) almost immediately announces to Owen that they can't be friends, but that icy isolation quickly melts, and the two of them bond over the fact that they're both outcasts...that they're both trapped in a world they didn't create and are unable to escape. Owen's an underappreciated kid butting up against a fork in the road. He could blow past this dark time in his life and use that to spur himself on to great success later in life, or maybe he'll turn out to be a
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sociopath. Could go either way. Abby, meanwhile, is a vampire. She can't enter a home without expressly being invited inside. Prolonged exposure to sunlight will cause her to burst into flames. She depends on blood -- human blood -- to sustain her immortality. Showing no signs of being a grown woman in a child's body, Abby has clearly been twelve for a very, very long time. Owen and Abby become increasingly dependent on each other to make it from one day to the next, and the horrors that torment them quickly threaten to consume them both.

There's very much a part of me that, for the sake of this review, wishes I hadn't seen Let the Right One In beforehand. At the very least, I'm wondering if rewatching the original Swedish adaptation immediately before diving into the American remake has completely tainted my perception. As Let Me In unspooled, all I could think of how the Swedish film had approached each sequence so similarly and yet did the same thing even better. I'm consciously aware that I'm watching a respectful and intelligent remake, but the superior Swedish adaptation is so seared into my mind that I can't bring myself to embrace Let Me In as much as I feel I should. I can't appreciate Let Me In on its own merits, and this review is almost certainly going to read like a long list of reasons why it's not as good as Tomas Alfredson's adaptation.

For one, I just don't feel the same connection to these characters. Kåre Hedebrant's Oskar is a cadaverous child who's seemingly on the brink of being autistic. He's so far detached from the world around him that there's little to suggest that he'll ever be a part of it. I feel his isolation. I can understand why his classmates would just as soon keep their distance and why, tragically, he'd be a magnet for cruelty. Kodi Smit-McPhee is handed the same role but looks so much more lively...has so much more personality simmering under the surface. Even the way he speaks has more vivacity than Hedebrant ever offers. I can't picture Oskar ever having friends; Owen just seems to be suffering through a rough patch
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at the moment. It's the same role hitting the same beats in the plot, and yet Owen is a profoundly different character. Without question, Owen is more likeable and more sympathetic in this adaptation, but I think that's missing the point completely. I'll also admit to being disappointed that the remake loses Oskar's smirk when he first revels in violence...corruption of the innocent is such a key element of the story.

Along much those same lines, Abby's caretaker (Richard Jenkins) has also changed in small but significant ways. In the earlier film, it was understandable that Per Ragnar's character would be mistaken for Eli's father. There's a clear parental affection and sense of responsibility. Just as most parents would without hesitation sacrifice their own lives for their children, so too would Håkan for Eli. Jenkins' father character, on the other hand, approaches the need to feed Abby -- to murder an innocent man and bleed him dry, and then have to perform the same grisly task again and again and again without end -- as an unwanted burden. Again, the plot points remain more or less the same, but he seems to be more of a grudglingly obedient servant than an unwaveringly devoted father. As understandable as his exhaustion is, to my mind, that dulls the impact of his character's arc.

As gifted a young actress as Chloe Grace Moretz is, she can't offer Lina Leandersson's cold, gothic charm or androgynous allure. Leandersson played an undead, immortal creature that slowly let 'her' guard down; Moretz generally comes across as cute and often even sweet. Leandersson was so haunting when she moved in for the kill precisely because she was still so recognizably human on the surface but monstrous underneath. Adding in fright makeup and an Exorcist growl for Moretz doesn't work at all, and her take on the vampiric rule of entering a home uninvited is considerably less effective. The bond between Owen and Abby feels rather rushed, especially compared to Let the Right One In, and the distance between them is bridged far too quickly. It seems like in the space of a couple sentences, Abby transforms from a detached loner to a chipper twelve-year-old. I just didn't buy into their relationship...that deeply as I could in the Swedish film, and that puts this adaptation at a severe disadvantage in my eyes. Abby and Owen's first date is the only sequence that strikes me as being richer and more satisfying in that sense than in the original.

Let Me In also strikes me as being overscored. Michael Giacchino's music doesn't subtly accentuate the visuals and the drama so much as bludgeon them with an oversized mallet. The score throughout the more intense sequences is obnoxiously bombastic, while the film's most emotionally impactful moments are drenched in syrupy strings. I just felt as if Giacchino was constantly screaming in my ear precisely what emotion I was meant to be feeling, and it took me entirely out of the movie more than a couple of times. The overuse of '80s pop hits is also extremely intrusive. I appreciate that Let Me In doesn't latch onto its 1980s backdrop for kitsch value, but it clumsily shoehorns in enough nods from the decade that the movie just seems to be frantically flailing its arms around in desperation so that no one overlooks what year it's supposed to be set in. There are potentially
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fascinating avenues that could've been explored with a setting of 1983, but Let Me In chooses to ignore them. The film glosses over those intriguing ideas while overexplaining others, seemingly mortified that the audience might accidentally miss an emotional beat or a bit of subtext. The final shot of Let Me In is particularly embarrassing in that respect.

Frequently more doesn't work. The more elaborate acid burn makeup, for instance, is ultimately less horrifying since you see so much of it, and Abby throughout her CG-enhanced attacks looks like jittery stop-motion animation. Still, sometimes more can be effective. The bullying is certainly crueler and more vicious this time around. Let Me In respects the subdued approach to violence from the original film, suggesting or obscuring much of it, and yet it still manages to be swifter and more savage. Matt Reeves without question prefers to approach the material in the same general way as the Swedish adaptation, but this isn't a shot-for-shot remake. For instance, all of the scenes with Richard Jenkins' nameless father figure hunting for victims to feed Abby are entirely different, and the second -- shattering expectations and eventually culminating in a spectacular car crash -- is easily the most memorable sequence in the film. Let Me In also wisely discards the memorable-for-all-the-wrong-reasons kitty onslaught from the previous adaptation and restores a detective character from the original novel. There's never really any doubt what the cop's fate will ultimately be, but a remarkably strong performance by Elias Koteas makes this feel like a far more essential character than he really is and wrings out far more suspense from it than I ever would've thought possible.

It's a stale analogy, I know, but bear with me anyway: Let Me In is a terrific cover song, one that adds in some of its own flourishes but generally prefers to be exceptionally faithful to the original. The problem is that while Let Me In hits the same notes in much the same way, it misses the music...the lyricism...the nuances that make the original Swedish adaptation as brilliant as it is. I'm thrilled to see that Let Me In retains the slower, more methodical pace of the original film -- that it hasn't been clumsily retooled into a Twilight knockoff or a 30 Days of Night-style splatterfest. In most every conceivable way, Let Me In is so similar to the original Swedish film and, time and time again, just barely misses reaching those same heights. Let Me In is a thoughtful and artfully crafted remake, but I'm not really sure why I should settle for an admittedly very skillful recreation when I can just watch the superior Let the Right One In in the first place. Let Me In comes recommended as a a companion piece...but it's no substitute for Let the Right One In.

Let Me In looks
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somewhat uneven on Blu-ray, but I'm sure all of this dates back to the original anamorphic 35mm photography. The image can be blurry around the edges, as is not uncommon with anamorphic lenses. In the same vein as the original Let the Right One In, clarity and detail are dazzling in some shots but an underwhelming shrug in others. It's still a considerable step up over anything DVD could hope to deliver, but demo material it's not. Still, this visual approach, coupled with an extremely tight and unintrusive sheen of grain, lends Let Me In an appealingly filmic look that wonderfully complements the tone of the movie. I'm admittedly not keen on the sickly yellow tint to a handful of scenes here, but Let Me In generally prefers to emphasize the frigid hues from the earlier Swedish adaptation, and these are reproduced very effectively on Blu-ray. Black levels, on the other hand, are somewhat more lifeless than I was expecting. I won't pretend to be dazzled by this presentation or anything, but I don't get the sense that's what the film is aiming for either. I'm sure this is a very faithful representation of the way Let Me In looked when it was making the rounds in theaters, and I'm unable to spot any flaws specific to the authoring of this Blu-ray disc.

The AVC encode for Let Me In spans both layers of this BD-50 disc. The film's theatrical aspect ratio of 2.39:1 has been preserved on Blu-ray.

Matt Reeves marvels throughout his audio commentary at Let Me In's sound design and for good reason. This six-channel, 24-bit Dolby TrueHD soundtrack is excellent, particularly shining in those few scenes in which Abby is out for blood. The sounds of screams -- of bodies being dragged and violently flung around -- make for an onslaught of smooth pans from one speaker to the next. A particularly devastating car wreck easily ranks as one of the most aggressive and spectacularly well-designed sequences I've heard in the past year. The fact that there are only a handful of manic action sequences affords the designers more time to ensure that those moments truly impress, and the care and effort invested is immediately apparent. This is a film that absolutely demands to be experienced in full 5.1 surround sound. Lower-key sequences still have their share of sonic flourishes, from bullies pounding away in the locker room to the mechanical wheeze of a breathing apparatus. Michael Giacchino's score also boasts some impressively swooping dynamics, particularly that deep, thunderous low-end. The film's dialogue is never once threatened in the mix and is consistently reproduced cleanly and clearly. This is an outstanding effort that complements the largely subdued approach of Let Me In remarkably well, and I'm really not left with any complaints whatsoever.

There are no dubbed soundtracks this time around. Subtitles are limited to English (SDH) and French.

  • From the Inside: A Look at the Making of Let Me In (17 min.; HD): It's
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    appreciated that "From the Inside" isn't just another lightweight, promotional EPK but really is interested in exploring the making of the film. The featurette touches on some of the dramatic and visual metaphors of Let Me In, and this is quickly followed by brief looks at casting, stuntwork, make-up effects, and the more-extensive-than-you-might-expect visual effects work. It's a solid overview.

  • The Art of Special FX (6 min.; HD): This reel is a montage of different render passes and background plates for several memorable effects shots, including the tunnel assault, Abby scaling the walls of the hospital, Virginia bursting into flames, and Abby demonstrating to Owen what happens to a vampire that enters uninvited. The progressions of these effects are told entirely visually -- there is no narration or commentary here.

  • Car Crash Sequence Step-by-Step (6 min.; HD): The disc's third and final featurette delves into Let Me In's most memorable new sequence. Woven through previz footage, dailies, behind-the-scenes snippets, shots of test runs, and curiously phoned-in narration, we learn how this elaborate sequence was executed in what looks to be one seamless shot, including the elaborate rigs and digital effects that bring it all together.

  • Deleted Scenes (5 min.; SD / HD): Three deleted scenes are offered here with optional commentary by Matt Reeves. A quick, thirty second scene reiterates Abby and Owen's shared loneliness and expands upon her fascination with games. This is followed by Owen's coach reaching out to him at school, sharing a story of his own tremendously difficult struggles from his youth. These two are limited to standard definition only. The third and final scene is presented in 1080p, and it features an obscured look at Abby as she was first being turned...a sequence excerpted for one of the trailers. Reeves' commentary explains why these scenes were removed and offers a little additional background information, such as where the coach got his last name.

  • Dissecting Let Me In: This Blu-ray disc serves up a running picture-in-picture feature, although I'll admit to finding it fairly disappointing. There's just not nearly enough material here to sustain an extra like this. I didn't keep a running tally, but I'd guess there are somewhere around 25 to 30 minutes of footage in all for this two hour film, and a fair amount of this is carried over from material elsewhere on the disc. I want extras to engage me. I don't want to wade through 7 minutes of a movie I've already watched, listen to a talking head for 40 seconds, and then twiddle my thumbs for another 5 or 6 minutes waiting for another clip. There is a good bit of material unique to "Dissecting...", but with so little to draw from, it would've been better reincorporated into the "From the Inside" featurette instead.

    The footage here is a mix of talking head interviews, behind-the-scenes footage, and storyboards. Among the highlights are the triumphant return of Hammer Films, comparing and contrasting this adaptation with the original Swedish novel, the design of Owen's bedroom, detailed insight into the costume design, and Chloe Moretz giggling about having guzzled so much fake blood. Most of the key action sequences are accompanied by a healthy amount of
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    making-of footage. Again, the material's worthy, but there's just not enough of it to warrant a picture-in-picture feature.

  • Audio Commentary: Screenwriter/director Matt Reeves chimes in with a reasonably strong commentary track. He addresses a few of the questions I had, such as the appeal of the Reagan-era backdrop, the golden tint to scenes in and around the apartment building, and the film's religious undercurrent. I also enjoyed hearing about the unexpected origin of the mask Owen is briefly wearing at one point, noting why we never clearly see either of Owen's parents, scheduling things so that Chloe Moretz and Kodi Smit-McPhee would be getting to know each other on and off-camera, pointing out some of what has been incorporated from the original novel that isn't in the earlier film adaptation, and...why not?...working in a nod to Felicity. It's a decent commentary, although I admittedly didn't find myself scribbling down as many highlights in my notes as usual.

  • Trailers (5 min.; HD): This Blu-ray disc features both the green and red band trailers for Let Me In.

  • Poster and Stills Gallery (HD): Finally, there are a little over thirty production stills and poster art concepts.

The release of Let Me In reviewed here comes packaged with a 22 page comic: the first issue of Dark Horse's four part "Crossroads" miniseries. This is an official prequel to the film, and Abby and her "father" are drawn accordingly to resemble Chloe Moretz and Richard Jenkins. The second disc in the set is a digital copy for use on iTunes and Windows Media-powered devices. The Blu-ray case slides inside a translucent plastic sleeve, revealing Abby's smudged vampiric face.

The Final Word
Matt Reeves has crafted a startlingly faithful adaptation of Let the Right One In, retaining the intelligence, methodical burn, and icy atmosphere of the widely adored Swedish film while resisting any pressure to pander to Twihards or gorehounds. Its compelling blend of artful imagery, ambiguity, deep emotion, a few explosive bursts of violence, and skilled casting ensure that it easily ranks among the most exceptional genre films of recent memory. I respect Let Me In. It's a more than worthy remake, and it already has exposed John Lindqvist's story to many more eyes than Let the Right One In could ever hope to reach. As remarkable an achievement as Let Me In is, though, it's mimicking Let the Right One In so closely that I can't take it on its own merits. Let Me In is great, but Let the Right One In is in most every respect even better. The moments that resonate the most with me throughout Let Me In are the ones Matt Reeves added that aren't in the earlier Swedish film, and I wish there were more of them. It just seems as if the chief appeal of Let Me In is that there aren't subtitles. For the many admirers of Let the Right One In, this American version is an intriguing companion piece but little more. As for those who haven't experienced the original adaptation, I'd just as soon recommend that instead. Let Me In is an artfully crafted and exceptionally faithful adaptation, but in being so faithful, it's rendered itself redundant. It has little new to say or offer. Again, this is a very good film with a compelling release on Blu-ray, but why settle for "very good" when the Swedish version is even greater?
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