Toronto: 'Let Me In' is exceptional, with two brilliant young leads at their best
A case where a second shot at material yields even richer rewards
There is no one who feels more protective of "Let The Right One In" than I do.
The joke, of course, is that I imagine most fans of the film feel that way. When I saw the movie at Fantastic Fest in September of '08, that was already nine full months after it started its life on the festival circuit, and if you go back and look at the reviews that came out of festival after festival, including Tribeca in April and Seattle in May, people were buzzing about this special, beautiful, hushed little gem of a vampire movie. It got a theatrical release of sorts here in October of that year, but it never broke out of the "well-reviewed subtitled movie that no one sees" boneyard. Whatever fan base it has, it has earned honestly through word of mouth and reviews, and everyone I've ever spoken with about the film seems to love it in that protective way that film fans sometimes adopt for delicate movies you don't want anyone to abuse.
I think a lot of that has to do with the enormous empathy that the film generates for Oskar (Kare Hedebrant) and Eli (Lina Leandersson), kids who were cast after an open search turned them up, non-professionals who gave these amazing, non-affected performances. I know that when I saw the film originally, I felt so bad for these kids that it excused everything they do in it. I thought they did work that was magic. Once in a lifetime.
There is good reason to be skeptical of "Let Me In," which was adapted by writer/director Matt Reeves from John Ajvide Lindqvist's novel and from Lindqvist's own adaptation of the book which was used for the Swedish film, "Lat Den Ratte Komma In." I was skeptical all the way up to the moment the screening actually began, and I got pulled in by the quiet precision of this film by Matt Reeves. I believe this is every bit as valid a take on Lindqvist's novel as the film by Tomas Alfredson was. That may offend some purists, but Matt Reeves approached this material with a keen eye and a sharp wit. He basically stripped it all the way down, cutting out most of our glimpses of the community around these children, reducing parents to out of focus background figures, stranding Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee) and Abby (Chloe Moretz) in a universe where they must make impossible moral choices on their own.
Working with Greig Fraser, the cinematographer whose last film "Bright Star" was a great example of control over atmosphere, sculpting with light and shadow, Matt Reeves turns Los Alamos, New Mexico into a ghost town, a place cut off by a perpetual chill, and he sets Owen adrift in it. I didn't care for last year's "The Road," and I didn't connect at all to the performance there by Kodi Smit-McPhee. And now, I think I have to blame that on John Hillcoat, the director of "The Road," and not on the kid because he's amazing in "Let Me In." Amazing. And for the second time this year, I find myself singing the praises of Chloe Moretz, a remarkable, intuitive actress who is able to project this presence way beyond her years, and yet it never seems like an act, and it also doesn't seem to have dented the innocence that is still so close to the surface for her as well. They both do sophisticated work in this film, and the dance between Owen and Abby is everything. That's the whole film. It either works or the movie is pointless, and what Matt Reeves captured between these two is raw and real and amazing.
Equally impressive in the film are Richard Jenkins and Elias Koteas. Jenkins plays a caregiver to Abby, a man who seems at first glance to be her father, but whose actual relationship to her is much more unsettling. Jenkins is one of the greats, a character who knocks it out of the park, time after time, film after film. In this film, those sad sad eyes of his are perfectly used, reflecting a lifetime of devotion and damage. Koteas is another one of those guys who just plain does great work consistently, and he plays the cop trying to piece together what's happening in Los Alamos, following Abby's trail, threatening this delicate cat-and-mouse between the kids. These two are really the only significant adult roles in the film, and they both do such great work that it's obvious no one was sitting around on set thinking about this as a "remake." It's just an impeccably crafted version of this story, and Matt Reeves should be very, very proud of what he's done here.
It's one thing to have a command of camera craft. It's a totally different skill set to be able to get great work out of young actors, or actors of any age, frankly. But Reeves has both those skill sets, and he's obviously made this film out of some deep-seeded compulsion. It's odd to call the second adaptation of someone else's book "personal," but that's exactly how this feels. Matt Reeves is completely in touch with the banal horror of adolescence, and he makes it almost too painful to watch at times. It's very real, and yet stylized to a degree. Michael Giacchino's score is spare, haunting, atonal in a sort of early 60's Jerry Goldsmith way, and it really works on you as you watch. It's great stuff from one of the best film composers working.
Don't think it's all going to be sad-eyed kids and mopey vampires with feelings, though, because Reeves was careful to remember that this is still a horror film as well. This is horrifying. Abby does terrible, terrible things, and when she does them, she's a horrifying thing, an animal, mad for blood. Owen doesn't just meet cute with her and then make his decisions. He is dragged into this, even as part of his brain knows how wrong the situation really is. Still, when you are on your own, feeling abandoned and abused, anyone who can give you any power is probably going to seem like your savior. When the violence comes, Reeves doesn't shy away from it, nor does he fetishize it. He wants it all to hurt, and it does.
I'm sure some people will be unwilling to invite this film in, but for those who take the shot, there are such rewards waiting for them. "Let Me In" may be, technically speaking, a remake, but even so, it's a commanding experience, and one of the strongest films of 2010.
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