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Monday, January 31, 2011

LET ME IN -- DVD review by porfle


If you're a fan of the celebrated Swedish vampire flick LET THE RIGHT ONE IN, chances are you greeted the news of this remake with extreme pessimism.  My own feeling was that it would be a pale imitation rushed into production for the simple purpose of selling a copycat product to American audiences who don't like to read subtitles.  Finding out how wrong I was about this is one of the things that makes the mesmerizing LET ME IN (2010) such a pleasure to watch.

The snow-covered desolation of the New Mexico locations provides a suitable replacement for icy Sweden.  From the dramatic opening shot of a distant ambulance and two police cars screaming down a mountain road at night, we get our first hint of how interesting this film is going to look.  Matt Reeves' imaginative direction and visuals are consistently compelling, with a lushly dark color palette that's a refreshing change from the faded bluish tint of so many recent films.

After the opening flash-forward, we meet Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee), an odd, introspective little boy who lives in fear of the bullies who torment him at school.  His parents' divorce has all but made them ghosts in his life, and he yearns for a friend.  Enter Abby (ChloĆ« Grace Moretz), a little girl who just moved into the apartment next door with her sullen father (Richard Jenkins).  Distant at first, she warms up to the smitten Owen and he finds her a sympathetic friend.  What he doesn't know is that she's also a vampire.


While her "father" goes about the ghastly task of procuring sustenance for her, Abby's bond with Owen grows stronger.  But when he eventually discovers her secret, their relationship becomes a strange, life-altering experience for the troubled boy.  Meanwhile, his harrassment at school reaches a potentially deadly level as a police detective (Elias Koteas) investigating a rash of violent murders in the area gradually closes in on Abby.

Director Matt Reeves (CLOVERFIELD) describes LET ME IN as a labor of love, and it shows.  His adaptation of John Ajvide Lindqvist's screenplay (Lindqvist wrote the original novel as well) sticks pretty close to it most of the time but with a number of interesting and well-considered revisions.  Everything from the first movie is reimagined in such interesting ways that I found myself looking forward to seeing how each familiar occurrence would be reinterpreted.

The scenes with Owen's dad are dropped, although a phone conversation in which the desperate boy vainly reaches out to him serves the same purpose.  While the other tenants in his apartment complex are much less developed, the tunnel attack and that horrible hospital scene with the unfortunate Virginia are no less effective.
 

The police detective becomes a major player in this version, especially during a crucial moment in Abby's apartment.  The circumstances surrounding the Richard Jenkins character's nightly activities on Abby's behalf have been considerably fleshed-out and come to a dramatic conclusion.  Throughout the film, things that I thought couldn't be redone as well--particularly the climactic swimming pool scene--are artfully handled.

One thing that did disappoint me about the remake is how bad some of the CGI is.  When Abby attacks a jogger in a tunnel beneath a bridge, the movements are jerky and unconvincing.  Later glimpses of a CGI-Abby figure in action are similarly jarring.  Fortunately, though, a reprise of the original film's infamous "cat scene" isn't even attempted.

The juvenile leads are amazingly good.  Both Kodi Smit-McPhee as Owen and ChloĆ« Grace Moretz as Abby have haunting, expressive faces that convey deep feeling.  This isn't just child acting by imitation or rote--they give mature, fully-realized performances.  (Moretz is pretty creepy in her vamp-out makeup, too.)  Also noteworthy is Dylan Minnette as Kenny, the embodiment of the vile schoolyard bully.


As Abby's mysterious "father", Richard Jenkins displays his knack for portraying a deeply tragic figure with quiet subtlety.  Elias Koteas is equally good as the police detective, in whom we sense an innate humanity that makes it hard not to root for him.

The DVD from Anchor Bay is in 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen with Dolby Digital 5.1 sound.  Subtitles are in English and Spanish.  Extras include a director commentary, "From the Inside: A Look at the Making of 'Let Me In'", "The Art of Special Effects", "Car Crash Sequence: Step-By-Step", some interesting deleted scenes (including how Abby became a vampire), green and red-band trailers, and a poster/stills gallery.  Also enclosed is a mini-comic book, "Let Me In: Crossroads", which is #1 in a four-part prelude to the film from Dark Horse Comics.

There's a fascination to watching a remake that's so good that it doesn't constantly draw unfavorable comparisons to the first film.  Dark and richly atmospheric, LET ME IN never feels like an imitation, nor does it self-consciously try to be different.  It's a remake that feels like an original.


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