by Richard von Busack
OBVIOUSLY, Let Me In is a movie that wouldn’t exist if Americans had better subtitle-reading skills. Still, director Matt (Cloverfield) Reeves’ respect for the original Swedish film, Let the Right One In, makes this an honorable and chilling movie about the uncanny. It has that element of pity that results in genuine horror, instead of a series of ever-noisier and yet ever-diminishing shocks.
The brick-lined location—a shabby apartment in Los Alamos, N.M., in the winter of 1983—rhymes with the bad suburbs of Stockholm in Let the Right One In. It is the Reagan era; a time, as we see in a TV clip, when the president could go in front of the cameras and confidently explain that he knew the difference between good and evil—as if the old fraud had been elected Pontifex Maximus instead of president.
Raised by a drunken but pious single mom, Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is getting to the stage where he’s less interested in candy and more interested in knives. Skinny, pale and with disturbingly wide-set eyes, he is a natural target for bullies. This is when Abby (Chloe Moretz) shows up. She’s a pale girl with dirty bare feet, and she only comes out at night. A friendship grows between the two solitary kids. What Owen doesn’t know is that Abby’s father (Richard Jenkins) is a serial killer who lurks in the back seats of cars wearing a mask fashioned from a plastic trash bag. He ritually murders his victims, draining their blood into a jug. It’s surprising how much Jenkins looks like a Nosferatu in certain lights. With a birthmark and cracked eyeglasses, he’s a predator at the end of the line, with as much bad luck as any other aging hunter-gatherer.
As we saw in Kick-Ass, Moretz is an actress of importance. We see it here in Moretz’s subtlety, in her pregnant silences and in the camera angles that search out the asymmetries of her pretty face. Those asymmetries are where the real horror lies: not in the Day-Glo contact lenses or dental prostheses she wears later. Sadly, this remake censors one aspect of Abby’s nature, which viewers of the original will remember well...but to be fair, this censored version doesn’t contradict that part of the story, either.
Let Me In, of course, makes the Twilight saga look worse than it does already. Some of Reeves’ innovations work, such as the ambitious POV shot of a car crash and some burn makeup so hideous it’s almost beautiful. All in all, Reeves does a fine job of delivering the forlornness, solitude and shame of this story, which only uses the word “vampire” once: the focus is not on blood for blood’s sake but on the tragedy of inexplicable need.