Friday, October 8, 2010

Let Me In

Some people are tired of vampires.  I am not.

In 2008, Tomas Alfredson's Let the Right One In (based on the 2004 novel by Swedish writer John Ajvide Lindqvist) offered serious horror film lovers the opportunity to experience a horror film built on texture and tone, rather than shock effects, creating a mood, rather than an assault on the senses.  Its international popularity ensured that there would be a Hollywood remake, with American actors and an American setting.

I am happy to report that Let Me In, directed by Matt Reeves (Cloverfield), is in many ways better than the original.  It "explains" more than the original film did, unfortunately, but it also trims away some scenes that slowed the Swedish version down.  And the explanations are not tiresome or cheap.  The new film's special effects are superior in every way.  I miss the cat-attack scene--but it's a scene so full of unintentional comic effect (as is true in the original to some extent) that its deletion is understandable.  Sexual ambiguities in the original are tidied up--with clear, no-nonsense borders for American audiences--while maintaining the original's queasy evocations of pedophilia.

The setting is switched to Los Alamos, New Mexico, in wintertime ... to good effect.  The site's history well evokes the idea of "necessary evil," which is central to the story's theme and the perplexing moral anxiety that threads through it.  More unexpected is the switch of the setting to 1983, with flickering images of Ronald Reagan lecturing the American public on "evil" and the 12-year-old protagonist's mother's absorption with televangelists.  In the original, set in the present day (so I thought) the vampire's presence in the small Swedish town evokes the pervasive fear of strangers we have because of the age of terrorism.  But then the theme--that harsh violence is sometimes necessary to resolve existing injustices at the hands of mindless wielders of power--might be too harrowing in post-9/11 America ... even though neither film is expressly or explicitly political.

The performances by child actors Kodi Smit-McPhee and Chloe Moritz are amazingly good--frighteningly good.  Richard Jenkins, great in anything I have ever seen him in, is superb here too, in the role of the vampire's caretaker.  And Elias Koteas tones down his usual manic tics to deliver another great performance as a police investigator looking into what he suspects is a series of satanic ritual slayings.

I intend to rewatch my DVD of the Swedish film sometime between now and Halloween.  Hopefully, more intriguing contrasts will be brought to my attention then.  But the remake is good, very good, and I wouldn't be surprised that I will want that DVD too, once it becomes available--and perhaps give it another look while it is still in theaters.

1 comment:

  1. I loved the original, so I'm glad to see your review of the adaptation. I'm not sure I'll be able to stomach the new setting (the novel is such a Swedish story, through and through), but I'm excited to see it soon, hopefully this weekend!



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