Hammer Films returned from the grave with an all-new adaptation of Swedish author John Ajvide Lindqvidst’s vampire novel, previously filmed as the superb Let the Right One In (2008). Cloverfield director Matt Reeves handles this darkly poetic coming-of-age tale about Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee), a neglected and bullied twelve year old boy, who finds love and revenge through Abby (Chloë Grace Moretz), a beautiful yet peculiar girl who turns out to be a vampire.
Aside from bringing Hammer back into the fold with a much needed commercial hit, Let Me In, somewhat surprisingly for a remake, ranked among the most critically lauded films of 2010. Many critics felt the film was a masterpiece, but there were some notable dissenters who argued everything that worked with the remake was already present in the original while Reeves’ additions were redundant. Some of these criticisms are valid. The superfluous flash-forward opening exists solely to get things off to a running start and Reeves’ decision to set the film circa 1983 will only make sense to those willing to delve beyond its immediate visceral thrills and heart-rending romance. For the most part, Reeves succeeds in crafting a remake that, while not superior, proves a fine companion piece with its own distinctive visual identity. Cinematographer Greig Fraser weaves an ominous, doom laden atmosphere with most scenes swathed in shadows or else bathed in unsettling amber hues bordering on sepia tone.
Reeves expands the story into a wider context. “There is sin and evil in the world”, declares President Ronald Reagan via archive footage, underlining the film as an attempt by Hammer to reassess what their age-old metaphysical concepts of good and evil mean in the 21st century. Owen and Abby become the disenfranchised future of America, searching for what is right and wrong in a morally uncertain world. As in the original, we are left feeling an unnerving sympathy for monsters and murderers, largely because they are confused, sad and human while what we glimpse of the “normal” world seems far more cruel, irrational and inhuman. Owen asks his parents that all-important question: “Is there such a thing as evil?”, but like society at large, they are too self-involved to answer. So Owen makes his own choice. It is up to the viewer to decide what that is. In the film’s most devastating and ambiguous scene, one of Abby’s victims reaches out to Owen and he slowly shuts the door.
The film finds redemptive hope in the love between a lonely little boy and an immortal vampire girl. Their love story ticks all the boxes of any recognisable adolescent romance: the awkward, but still exciting first date, pretending to be someone you’re not to impress the object of your affection. That all important first kiss, over much too fast, but whose effect lingers a lifetime, and the heartache when that person falls off the pedestal we put them on. Crucially, Owen and Abby manage the maturity to overlook such trivial setbacks and their love story proves as affecting as the horrific scenes are unsettling. The film is anchored in two marvellous performances from youngsters Kodi Smit-McPhee and Chloë Grace Moretz who, between this and Kick-Ass (2010), has rapidly become cinema’s most terrifying adolescent, albeit one you'd really want as your best friend. To his credit, Reeves never softens Abby for mainstream acceptance. Her various bloodthirsty kills clearly mark her as a predator, although arguably no more guilty than a lion or a shark. Some of the supporting characters are not as well defined as they were in the Swedish movie, but Reeves borrows some nifty ideas from Rear Window (1954) to deftly sketch in the details. If only all remakes were as reverential and lovingly crafted.
There does seem to be a move towards defining this as better than the original, and it does replace that arthouse respectability with a more commercial style, but its relentlessly oblique camerawork and unnecessary CGI are more annoying than a benefit.
If you know the first version, this is a real slog, though the message that those who love you actually want something major from you, and it might not be healthy, survives. I wasn't a big fan of the first one, so it's no wonder this did nothing for me.