Exactly two years after Let the Right One In was unleashed in Sweden, an American version re-titled Let Me In defies all expectation. It does proper justice to the established work, much in the same way that Sin City did proper justice to Frank Miller graphic novels. That is to say, almost carbon copied for fear of screwing things up the way remakes and adaptations often do. The result is visually stunning, well acted, and a fraction of an improvement while distinctly uneventful to those familiar with the original.
“Improvement!? Blasphemy.” That’s what die-hard foreign fans will spit my way, and I would agree with them if not for the original being so flawed. Still, Let the Right One In deserved this kind of tuning for the subtitle adverse, but… ok maybe improvement suggests more than I’m willing to grant. For everything that works better, something else is lost in translation, in ways that sometimes result in sillybeans of bloodthirst. The latter is exemplified in decade-old-quality computer generated action and makeup closer to comedy than the more harrowing frames of its predecessor.
Even exchange begins with a scene more firmly rooted in the novel’s 80’s roots, convenient for Ronald Regan telecasts establishing a word of misappropriated righteousness. This theme is mirrored in the less-than-subtle shift of a main character’s mother being blindly of the Bible. She hypocritically ignores her only son Owen (name changed because nobody in America has ever been called Oscar) who is bruised from beatings at school and likes to stab inanimate objects he refers to as “little girl.” One of the nice touches in this remake is to keep Owen’s mother out of frame or out of focus so that his home life is that much lonelier. His parents are preoccupied with their divorce process, alienating young Owen further.
Throughout the film there’s a visual playfulness that enhances some of the iconic moments of the original. Unwoven to LOST composer Michael Giannaccio’s music, these allow for a more fluid presentation. My favorite touch by far is the low-tone yellow light used to accent some of the scenes where Owen is coupled with Abby, a vampire girl who can’t be judgmental of his androgyny when she herself is barely human. It serves to convey warmth between them, something I rarely felt watching the original.
It’s a shame there’s still no palpable chemistry between these two actors. See, that’s the snag. In the role of Abby, Chloe Grace Moretz is careful in her approach. She wants us to draw our own conclusions as to her nature, just as we did in the original. This may lie at the fault of the direction of Matt Reeves, made more popular for the technical choices of Cloverfield than drawing the best out of actors. What we’re looking at here is a girl (yes a girl, as all question of gender has been removed from the novel) who doesn’t know what she is, doesn’t know what she wants, and is stuck in a state of desperate need and survival instinct. End of sad, slow-crawling story.
That’s a problem. Why? Because the girl in the Swedish Let The Right One In was a weak actress. She was a child so nobody expected more, but Moretz in Let Me In actually has the capacity to deliver a true persona. We’ve seen that in Kick-Ass and (500) Days of Summer. Instead, her finest contribution here is in knowing when to be generous to her co-star, Kodi Smit-McPhee who looks the part but can’t seem to run with it.
The movies orbit the twelve year old vampire and similarly aged loner boy meeting just as the bitty bloodsucker’s guardian is getting on in years. The old man’s life is pitiful, and he’s played masterfully this time around by the finally acknowledged Richard Jenkins after the actor’s own thankless contributions. This older character is unnamed and like Owen’s mother is also kept from closeups in contrast to the original. Heartbreakingly pitiful, he’s exactly why the vampire knows she could just as likely ruin her new friend as become his companion.
Let the Right One In portrayed a sterile relationship between the boy and his monster. He is the potential connection to humanity she doesn’t want to live without, suitable enough because he isn’t pulling the legs off of crabs, and she is his potential first girlfriend, because nobody warm blooded will have him. Replication of this poses a problem when you’ve cast Hit-Girl, because even at her lowest presentability she’s still a Hollywood starlet.
This was where the American remake’s opportunity resided. A lively girl (when fed) could have shown interest in an awkward, sensitive boy for better or worse. Vampire desert island scenario. It was left untapped despite marketing for the film being largely focused on the casting of blonde-hair-doe-eyes Chloe Moretz. The movie poster she isn’t curled up on features a blood smeared snow angel, but her character, like in the original film, is never desirable except by default.
Had Chloe Moretz been encouraged to play cat and mouse, or rediscover life in her undeath, only to waver in her motives and desires after looking in the eyes of her older companion, we might have had a superior film.