Film >Tweens today
Poor Matt Reeves. When he announced, almost exactly two years ago, that he would be writing and directing an American version of the Swedish vampire film Let the Right One In, he effectively cornered himself. At that time, the original had only a week earlier stormed Fantastic Fest and confirmed its budding reputation as an instant classic. Earlier this year, the Onion A.V. Club included Let the Right One In as part of their ongoing “New Cult Canon” series that anoints into the pantheon of Great Films those too often ignored because of their relative newness. Reeves’ protestations that he would be obsessively faithful (to the novel upon which the original film is based, not necessarily the original film) quelled fears that the Cloverfield director might throw in some citywide destruction to help it play in flyover country. But it did beg the next obvious question: Why bother? Why not leave a good thing alone?
Those questions plague Reeves’ finished product, Let Me In, from the first title card telling us we’re now in Los Alamos, New Mexico, and not Stockholm. There we meet Owen, a bullied kid with mournful eyes who serves as the designated people watcher at a snow-blanketed apartment complex. Owen watches his neighbors from a telescope, hangs out at a bench in the complex’s center courtyard and chats up the creepy yet soulful new girl who just moved in, Abby. (As Owen and Abby, young talents Kodi Smit-McPhee (The Road) and Chloe Moretz (Kick-Ass), respectively, display their startling thesp skills confidently and organically.)
The problem is, Abby’s a vampire, and she’s chosen a very small town as her new hunting ground. Aided by a bumbling, possibly lifelong servant/father figure played by the always-great Richard Jenkins, she starves herself out of discreetness. Unable to wait any longer, Abby and her nameless helper throw caution to the wind and go after some bodies to increasingly reckless results.
Meanwhile, Owen and Abby fall in tender, hesitant love – or at least chaste mutual admiration. He’s a warm body to crawl in bed with, and she’s just about the only person in town who listens to him. As he reads Romeo and Juliet in school, he passes his copy along to her and the story finds its parallel: They are young (both 12 in the film, give or take), dangerous and totally doomed.
With this literary (and literal) device, Reeves brings to the fore the sexual tension that dared to rear its head in the original, and emphasizes the story’s beautiful adolescent-awakening metaphor. From the bloodletting to the parental dynamics, the exposed neck as a pre-carnal invitation/danger zone – Reeves nicely altered the title to make the subtext even more text-y – what held true in the original holds true now: Adults tend to forget just how early and soul-shaking the first pangs of love truly are.
Let Me In is gorgeously shot, with bravura onscreen performances and a gripping narrative. So why does it seem so secondary? Because a lot of us already fell for this tale once, and, as I’m sure little Abby could tell you, it’s never quite the same the second time around.