Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Let Me In

I was a little torn about whether or not to watch this film at first. It had gotten rather mixed reviews, and there frankly didn’t seem to be much need to make a remake of a film that was released a mere two years earlier, particularly one that ranks as one of my favorite vampire movies of all time. Still, I was kind of curious to see the first new release of the revived Hammer Studios, and I’m glad I did. While this isn’t as good as the original, it still manages to be one of the best horror movies of 2010.

The film stars Kodi Smit-McPhee as Owen, a young boy that lives with his mother in an apartment complex in a small town in New Mexico. He’s continuously bullied at school, and only finds some measure of solace when he befriends a girl named Abby (Chloe Moretz) who lives next door to him. She doesn’t really behave like most girls her age, and Owen slowly comes to understand just how different she is (though it’s pointed out to us long before it is him). Yes, she’s a vampire, and one with her own problems, such as how she’s “twelve. But…I’ve been twelve for a very long time.” Indeed, she’s rapidly outliving the old man that’s been posing as her father, as he begins botching things when he kills to supply her with blood, as he’s sick of the mockery of life he’s living. The two children find solace with each other and draw the strength they need from each other to (mostly) help deal with their various problems.

Aside from a small and unfortunate flirtation with CG, co-writer/director Matt Reeves (whose previous film Cloverfield showed none of the skill he shows here) makes a subtle, powerful film, more concerned with exploring its characters and situation than with mindless scares (and thankfully no attempts at sexiness, a problem that plagues far too many vampire films). It’s also nice how the film focuses all its attention on our two young leads, to the point where other cast members have names like Owen’s Mother, The Father, and The Policeman. The pair give fantastic performances, showing all the hurt, confusion, and anger that people on the cusp of puberty go through, and which disturbingly few actors their age can manage. They are, of course, aided in conveying this mood by the gloomy winter coastline. Oh, how I’ve missed the sinister Hammer landscapes.

Of course, I can’t avoid the fact that I can make every last one of those bits of praise (slightly modified so far as the New Mexico landscape goes) for the original Swedish film as well. Indeed, for a film that claimed it was just starting from scratch in adapting the novel instead of being a straight remake of the original movie, it sure does hew pretty damn closely to its predecessor. Seriously, the first film skipped like half the novel, they could have easily made some significant changes here. That they claimed they were going to and then went ahead and just did a straight remake of a film that’s two years old is fairly insulting to everyone involved. It’s not exactly like the original was all that obscure, either, when it appeared on a great many critics’ Top Ten lists for 2008, so I can only assume that this was made specifically to appeal to people that wanted to see the original but suffer from illiteracy and so can’t read subtitles.

Still, while there really doesn’t seem to be a point to this film beyond that it’s in English instead of Swedish, I can’t deny that it’s a really effective effort. In a year filled with so few worthwhile horror movies, this stands out as one of the best. It’s good both as the first vampire movie of the new decade (well, the first released in theaters anyway, I’m sure there were dozens of the damn things that went straight to DVD) and as the debut release by the new Hammer. While it may not prove as iconic an effort as The Curse of Frankenstein (itself a remake) was, anytime we get a quality new British horror movie is just fine with me.

Rating: *** ½

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