From Matt Reeves, director of the shaky-cam monster movie Cloverfield, comes a remake of Let the Right One In, the 2008 Swedish tweenage-vampire flick about a 12-year-old bloodsucker and the boy next door, taunted by bullies at school, who falls in love with her. The character’s names are different—Eli becomes Abby, and Oskar, Owen—and so is the place—the filmmakers and writers exchanged chilly Sweden for the equally chilly high-mountain desert of Los Alamos, New Mexico—but the story, and almost all of the dialogue, is identical. The remake also retains the original’s Reagan-era time-setting to great benefit, especially in terms of a few quick chuckles via songs like The Vapors’ “Turning Japanese,” David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance,” and Culture Club’s “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?”
Reeves’ remake is just about flawless. Of particular note are the tremendous performances he exacts from the young actress (Chloë Grace Moretz, Kick-Ass; (500) Days of Summer) and actor (Kodi Smit-McPhee, The Road) in the principal roles. The luscious cinematography by Greig Fraser (Bright Star) continually bathes the apartment block where Owen and Abby live with their parents in a glorious, translucent golden glow from streetlights nearby. (This being a vampire film, events take place almost entirely under the cover of darkness. Early on, Fraser’s camera fixates on Owen’s face, leading me to wonder in what delirious directions Gus van Sant might have taken the story.)
Although the differences between the remake and its original might give it some leverage, there’s not much here to elevate the remake into a superior position. There’s a phone conversation between Owen and his (absent) father; a detective character who I don’t remember being (prominent) in the original, played here by the fabulously talented Elias Koteas (Two Lovers); and Owen is teased and mocked at school for looking too effeminate—whereas in the original, Oskar is bullied (and called “piggy”) for no discernable reason. Much of the decapitation and vampiric mastication in the original was downplayed, deliberately filmed at a remove supposedly not only to keep post-production time and cgi budgets down but to enhance the suspense—if you can’t see something up-close, you assume it’s as bad (or worse) than it sounds. In the remake, we get closer to the action, and a lot of the frenzied eating of brains and chomping on necks is cgi’d in, and, even though it’s quite often brief, doesn’t look too good.
The score is by Michael Giacchino, an almost unbelievably flexible, versatile composer who proved himself on video-game scores and then crossed over to cinema. He’s previously done exceptional work on films as various as UP, Mission: Impossible II, Speed Racer and J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek. His music for the Pixar film was appropriately playful—a waltz-heavy menagerie of player-piano melodies, old-timey violins, muted trumpets and lovably corny clarinets—and he brings some of the child-like sense of wonder that emerged there to bear on this project.
In Star Trek, the abundance of on-screen action allowed him to go all-out, and he crafted an expressive, brassy accompaniment to the Enterprise’s maiden voyage. His music for Let Me In—when it’s not busy with sinewy, churning horror clichés—has some beautifully patient, pensive stretches that utilise choirs and delicate, child-like voices, bells, and gentle piano just peeking out from behind some subtle sweetening. Ultimately, though, bad bombast outweighs good glissando, and the blunt, derivative nature of much of the score threatens to topple the film itself into risible slasher territory.
Giacchino has arguably over-scored Let Me In: his 79 minutes of music squeezes uncomfortably into every crevice of the film’s 119 minutes. Add to that the basically condescending nature of much of the score—inasmuch as it’s trying explicitly to tell the audience what to feel, manipulating them instead of imparting a feeling or evoking a mood—and it begins to look more like a hindrance than an accessory to the film.
As an American remake of a subtitled foreign film—as a version of the original for people who go to the movies not to read but to eat popcorn and have a good time—this should be praised. It’s not quite mainstream, but certainly not explicitly art-house, either. (It’s at least certainly not as ‘openly’ art-house as its original.) Reeves has far outshone expectations generated by his first outing, and has proved that a remake need not be boorish, sharpened and dumbed-down to suit the lowest-common denominator.
Hammer Horror, a studio which ran from 1939 until the early eighties and became famous for schlocky, William Castle-style B-movies, has recently been bought back from the dead; Let Me In is its first film of the new millennium. Here’s hoping they continue to explore interesting territory with similar projects. Here’s hoping, too, that David Fincher’s remake of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo has as much success translating from a Scandinavian source.