FANTASTIC FEST 2010
By Don Simpson | September 27, 2010
Director: Matt Reeves
Writer(s): John Ajvide Lindqvist (screenplay & novel “Låt den rätte komma in”)
Starring: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Chloe Moretz, Richard Jenkins, Elias Koteas, Cara Buono
If you are a fan of Tomas Alfredson’s Let the Right One In, you more than likely welcomed the news of Matt Reeves’ (Cloverfield) remake with one word: WHY? It seemed like the only “reasonable” answer was that there must be a significant enough segment of the world’s English-speaking film audience that would prefer to see John Ajvide Lindqvist’s book Låt den rätte komma in adapted for the silver screen without pesky subtitles. Considering just how faithful writer-director Matt Reeves’ remake is to Alfredson’s original (sometimes it is shot-for-shot and word-for-word), the subtitle logic seems pretty sound. No matter how puzzling that logic is to me, all I can say is that at least Reeves did not screw it up…
Let Me In takes place in Los Alamos (a small New Mexican town Northeast of Santa Fe that was founded as a secret planned community for the employees of the Manhattan Project during World War II) during the winter of 1983. A televised speech by Reagan features prominently in the opening scene and sets the political undertone of Reeves’ film. This is a time period of economic discontent and rampant divorce in the U.S. The entire nation is suffering and in search for a savior and Reagan is on the boob tube preaching about Jesus and evil. (Whatever happened to the separation of church and state?) This setting is very similar to the dismal political and economic subtext of Let the Right One In (though it is discussed much more subtly by Alfredson). Let the Right One In takes place in a downtrodden Stockholm apartment complex (which Reeves rebuilds in Los Alamos) — clearly representing Sweden’s social democracy, which is in decline — and the protagonist’s (Oskar) parents are divorced. Setting the film in 1983 also allows Reeves to showcase the kitschy elements of early 80s American popular culture such as video arcades, Rubik’s Cubes and pop music (we hear songs like Culture Club’s “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?” and David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance” on the radio).
The story begins as a mysterious man, disfigured by acid, is brought to the hospital. He is a suspect in a wave of seemingly ritualistic murders, a detective (Elias Koteas) arrives to question him. I am not sure why Reeves opts to start the film here, other than to place more emphasis on the one character who was not part of Alfredson’s original film. (The townspeople of Alfredson’s Stockholm are more aware of their surroundings than the people of Reeves’ Los Alamos — Alfredson lets the community piece together the crimes, while Reeves needs to bring in a detective in order to do so.) From the hospital, we flashback to when 12-year-old Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee) meets Abby (Chloe Moretz) — Oskar and Eli, respectively, from Let the Right One In.
Owen’s gender is more ambiguous than Oskar’s. Owen is called “little girl” at school (Oskar was just called a pig) and his hairstyle and fashion sense clearly identifies him as an “other” at school. Owen is the stereotypical weirdo/outcast — the bullies are also hyperbolic stereotypes and much more violent (the bullies in Let the Right One In seem more like bullies-in-training). Owen’s wee little penknife is significantly smaller than Oskar’s hunting knife, making Owen appear even weaker.
Abby is slightly more feminine than Let the Right One In’s Eli; also, Abby wears a winter coat but no shoes, whereas Eli wears shoes but no jacket (and only a short sleeve shirt).
The most significant difference between Abby and Eli, however, is that Reeves turns Abby into a CGI monster whenever she is ready to feast, making a clear distinction between the girl and the monster. (Eli remains physically unchanged whenever she feeds.) It seems Reeves wants to very clearly differentiate between Abby the good girl and Abby the bad monster.
As far as Owen and Abby’s relationship is concerned, Let Me In is less about the troubling quasi-sexual relationship between the central duo. Let Me In is quite innocent and conservative when compared to the strange — if not disturbing — romantic subtext of Let the Right One In: the bed scene is significantly less sensual in Let Me In (though presumably Abby is naked); we never see a full-frontal shot of Abby in Let Me In (the full-frontal shot of Eli in Let the Right One In is truly discomforting); Owen and Abby do not kiss as passionately as Oskar and Eli.
Abby’s “father” (Richard Jenkins) violently strangles his victims in their cars while wearing a trash bag over his head; while Eli’s “father” strategically uses gas to knock out his victims. Abby’s “father” is getting weak and becoming very frustrated with his role as her keeper; while Eli’s “father” sees no option other than to continue supporting Eli. Abby and her “father” argue loudly and violently and Abby’s voice sounds significantly more mature during their arguments (it clearly is not a 12-year old girl arguing with her “father”); while Eli and her “father” have arguments but we are far removed (and there is no noticeable change in Eli’s voice during the arguments). With these changes, Reeves blatantly tones down Abby’s love and affection for the significantly older man while simultaneous making the older man much more menacing.
As for Owen’s parents, Reeves opts to replace Oskar’s father (who, other than when he is drunk, is like a best friend to Oskar) with Owen’s absentee father with whom Owen speaks on the phone only once. Owen’s mother (Cara Buono) is a working mother; she is very religious (a devout Christian) but seems unable to connect with Owen. (Oskar’s mother cares about him and enforces a curfew to protect him.)
All in all, Reeves film is much more blatant and in your face than Alfredson’s. Good and bad are very exaggerated and quite easily identifiable. Any ambiguity and nuances from Alfredson’s film are abandoned by Reeves. The color palate of the cinematography might be the same, but where Alfredson uses long shots (emphasizing the loneliness of the characters) Reeves opts for close-ups (relying heavily on body language). If Alfredson used any CGI effects they were very subtle, but Reeves has no qualms about making the CGI effects very apparent.
I cannot think of any instance that Reeves is able to improve upon the near perfect Let the Right One In (except for Michael Giacchino’s score which is pretty damn close to brilliant). Instead, Reeves abandons most of the qualities of Let the Right One In that made it a very unique horror film: the romance between Eli and Oskar; the relationship between Eli and her “father”; the ambiguity between good and evil (for one, Eli never morphs into a monster); and the poetic neo-realism. But as I mentioned in the first paragraph, at least Reeves did not screw it up. Let Me In — though a more traditional horror film (and police procedural) — is a well constructed and beautifully acted film. The overall plot (and a majority of the dialogue) might be the same, but the subtexts are completely different.