Much of the focus on Matt Reeves’ Let Me In has been on its retelling of the beloved Swedish story Let the Right One In, but the American remake establishes early and often that the two similarly haunting films are capable of existing and affecting audiences, regardless of language or origin.
Reeves, who crashed onto the movie scene with 2008′s Cloverfield, closely shadows Tomas Alfredson’s original, perhaps to a fault, developing an ominous, unsettling tone that creeps through a Reagan-era tale of evil and love.
Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is an odd, troubled adolescent who, on top of being utterly friendless, is bullied regularly by his unrelenting classmates. Neglected by a drunken, deliberately faceless mother and an absentee father, Owen fends for himself in a run down New Mexican apartment complex. Like other boys his age, he’s curious about sex, though not with an insatiable desire to see flesh but with a pitiful longing for intimacy.
On another bleak, snowy day at the jungle gym, Owen meets Abby (Chloe Moretz), his androgynous and strangely shoeless next door neighbor, who immediately warns him they cannot be friends. She’s harboring a dark secret — the V word, spoken only once — an uncontrollable thirst, and has “been 12 for a very long time.” Her guardian and surrogate father (played by Richard Jenkins) requests, “Please don’t see that boy again,” as if protecting him more than her. Undeterred, they develop a bond as mutual outsiders over Now and Later candy, morse code, and several soft-spoken exchanges.
Smit-McPhee is talented far beyond his years, swapping an Australian accent for a spot-on American dialect and transitioning smoothly between loneliness, curiosity, fright, and receptiveness. Moretz plays timid well and is downright disturbing made up as the bloodthirsty monster. The reliable Jenkins delivers a muted, yet surprisingly physical performance, saying plenty with his eyes beneath a makeshift mask during late night hunts to drain unsuspecting victims. The always amazing Elias Koteas rounds out the impressive cast, making due in a nameless role as the mustachioed police detective investigating the area’s ritualistic murders.
Michael Giacchino’s eerie score sustains the unsettling mood, so prevalent that even its silent absence is still strangely foreboding, and ramps for the flurries of gory violence as Abby’s hunger claims another. On screen, Reeves develops suspense in slowly coiling scenes until the startling, inevitable strike. A creatively-shot car crash and the effective pool scene are particularly memorable, but other vicious attacks are marred by shoddy CGI, an unfortunate result of budget constraints.
Reeves’ Let Me In is reverent towards John Ajvide Lindqvist’s source material and crafts a rare re-imagining that is worthy of the original and a chilling experience for newcomers.
4 out of 5.