Friday, October 1, 2010

Film Review: Let Me In (2010)

LET ME IN (2010)
“Innocence dies. Abby doesn't"
Hammer Films

OPENS: Friday September 30th 2010
DIRECTOR: Matt Reeves
CAST: Kodi Smit-McPhee (Owen), Chloe Moretz (Abby), Richard Jenkins (The Father), Cara Buono (Owen’s Mom), Elias Koteas (The Policeman), Dylan Minette (Kenny)

VENUE: I attended an advance screening of LET ME IN at the HARKINS SPECTRUM 18 theatre in Tucson, AZ on Wednesday September 29th 2010 at 7PM. I live not a stones throw from this theatre (a 2 min. drive) and I love it. State-of-the-art digital projection and surround sound, comfortable seats, spacious auditoriums and a great concessions stand that includes a loyalty cup that entitles you to $1 Sodas. I arrived 90 min. prior to the screening and was about the 20th person in line. Harkins provided free water to the attendees as we waited in line and the air-misters were particularly appreciated while we baked in the waning Tucson sun. Something I’ve not seen other chains do for a screening was to only admit 20-30 patrons inside the lobby at a time in measured lengths which gives patrons enough time to hit the concessions stand before entering the theatre. This is mutually beneficial to theatre and patron as maximizes the theatres profits during a free screening and the patron is able to purchase concessions without the worry of a stampede for seating. My only bit of disappointment would be that the entire film was slightly out of focus. Even after pointing this out to a Harkins employee the issue was not corrected and I had a bit of headache afterwards. All-in-all a good experience, very organized.

FILM: When the Swedish vampire film LET THE RIGHT ONE IN burst onto the international scene in 2008 I don’t think anyone anticipated that the dark, unconventional coming of age story would grab the attention that it did. When it was announced that CLOVERFIELD director Matt Reeves had been tapped to helm an English language remake it was met with skepticism. The film was cinema of the highest order, why the need of an English language remake? What’s next, PAN’S LABYRINTH? I’m not against the concept of taking an established property and doing something different with it, a few of my most-treasured films are remakes; John Carpenter’s THE THING (1982), David Cronenberg’s THE FLY (1986) and Philip Kaufman’s INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1978) – each one a stunning piece of genre cinema. My curiosity for this project was piqued when I heard that the legendary HAMMER FILMS had been resurrected and acquired the rights to the remake. Hammer Films brought forth a great string of Dracula and Frankenstein films in the 1950’s and 60’s including THE BRIDES OF DRACULA (1960) and THE REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1959). In my mind Hammer Films was a continuation of the legacy that Universal Pictures created in 1930’s and 40’s. The decision to go with director Matt Reeves was a bit startling as the style and cinematography of that film didn’t lend itself to the atmospheric style of Let the Right One In. As the casting was announced I was more or less sold on the film. Chloe Moretz from KICK-ASS, Kodi Smit-McPhee from THE ROAD, and the amazing Richard Jenkins whom you may recall as the patriarch from HBO’s SIX FEET UNDER, THE WITCHES OF EASTWICK (1987) and most recently in the Coen Brothers’ BURN AFTER READING (2008). That’s it, that’s all I needed, a great cast, a talented director and the involvement of Hammer Films.

The setting of the film is moved from Stockholm (Sweden) to Los Alamos, New Mexico circa-1983. It translates well on film, the setting is winter, everything is covered in snow, the landscape is desolate and the town of Los Alamos is pure small-town misery. Other changes to the film are minor; Oskar is now called Owen, Eli is changed to Abby. The look of the film is amazingly similar to Let the Right One In. Tonally the films are kindred spirits, and the story is mirrored in almost all aspects. There are few major departures from the original storyline aside from the addition of a new character The Policeman (Elias Koteas) who is featured prominently throughout the film, including an interesting prologue that sets up the film. Something excised from the films is the exploration of the other dwellers to the extent we did in Let the Right One In, the focus is Owen and Abby’s intimate and emotional friendship.

We’re introduced to Owen, a frustrated 12 year-old child of divorce. He lives with his mother at an apartment where he bides his time spying on neighbors with his telescope and fantasizing about exacting revenge on the trio of assholes who viciously taunt him at school, especially Kenny, a black-hearted bully who’s got a serious bug up his ass. While spying through the telescope he notices the arrival of Abby and her minion played by Richard Jenkins. Owen and Abby strike a bond after meeting at the playground in the apartment’s courtyard. He soon discovers that Abby is more than what she seems, that she is an eternally 12 year old vampire, but he cannot fight his feelings for her despite his fears.

Not long after her arrival the bodies begin piling up in Los Alamos and The Policeman sets out to solve the slayings which he believes are Satanic in nature. Koteas bares more than a passing resemblance to the late John Cazale (Fredo from THE GODFATHER) and never more-so than here. Definitely a film that engages the viewer, I was completely rapt for the duration of the film, it’s compelling stuff. Both Moretz and Smit-McPhee are phenomenal in their roles, particularly McPhee's portrayal of Owen. You feel his alienation and frustration in life and the attraction he has for his mysterious new nocturnal friend. Jenkins portrayal of The Father is chilling stuff; he has a cold detachment when he’s on the prowl to procure fresh victims to satisfy Abby’s blood-lust. He also dons a simple yet frightful garbagebag with eyelets mask that recalls THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN or FRIDAY THE 13th Pt. 2. Years of service to Abby are starting to catch up with him and he makes mistakes that culminate in his capture which forces Abby to search for victims herself.

What didn’t I like about the film? Truly, very little. When Abby attacks her victims it’s enhanced using CGI and it had the effect of making her look like Gollum from the LORD OF THE RINGS. Could her unnatural movements and ferocious attacks been captured adequately through the use of speed-ramping and wire work to have avoided the Uncanny Alley of CGI? Probably, but this is only a minor quibble.

VERDICT: I won’t say that LET ME IN is a superior film to LET THE RIGHT ONE IN, it’s simply not. However, for being a remake of a near perfect film that needed no remake it does no disservice to the original. To make a musical comparison – I love the David Bowie’s “The Man Who Sold the World” it is true masterpiece. That said, when I flip on the radio and hear Nirvana performing their version of that song from MTV’s Unplugged I crank it up. It’s not better than Bowie but it’s still a stunning rendition just the same. This is firmly in my Top 10 of 2010 come year's end. Up next for Hammer Films is a remake of THE WOMAN IN BLACK from James Watkins - the writer/director of the English exploitation flick EDEN LAKE (2008) starring HARRY POTTER star Daniel Radcliffe. Consider my curiosity piqued.
****1/2 (4.5 out of 5 stars)