This remake of Let the Right One In, the Swedish film adaptation of John Ajvide Lindqvist’s haunting novel, doesn’t scale the heights of either but is a pretty good vampire movie in its own right.
I was resigned to the fact that the movie was bound to lose a lot of the novel’s distinctive Scandinavian character and bleakness by moving the story to the USA, but its new setting, Los Alamos in New Mexico, is an effective alternative with its wintry landscapes and rundown urban areas. Storywise the remake is mostly faithful to the original movie, focusing on the friendship between Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee), a lonely bullied boy whose parents are negotiating a nasty divorce, and his new neighbour Abby (Chloe Moretz), a strange girl who moves in next door with her “father” (Richard Jenkins). What Owen doesn’t know at first is that his new friend is a centuries-old vampire, who feeds on the fresh human blood that her “father” procures for her.
Let Me In makes a rather bizarre choice by starting off with a prologue in which Jenkins’ character, horribly disfigured and taken to the hospital, is questioned by a police officer before jumping out of the window, leaving behind an enigmatic note for Abby. It feels like an attempt to inject more crowd-pleasing thrills and drama into what essentially was a sparse and quiet story in the original. I didn’t necessarily dislike it, but it’s emblematic of the movie’s at times overly dramatic approach that pales next to its more subtle Swedish predecessor. One change I definitely disliked was the addition of monster make-up and glowing eyes for Abby for when she goes full vampire, as well as fake-looking and distracting special effects to show off her supernatural strength and speed.
The film also does away with the question marks over Abby’s gender, not surprising but rather adding to an overall impression of the story being cleaned-up for the English-speaking audience. On the other hand, Let Me In wisely doesn’t spend too much time on the subplot involving Virginia, a woman who is bitten but not killed by Abby and transforms into a vampire herself. It was one of the most memorable story strands in Lindqvist’s sprawling novel, but the film with a limited running time couldn’t really do it justice.
Of the film’s young leads, Kodi Smit-McPhee is outstanding as Owen and does a phenomenal job tapping into his painful isolation and darker streak. You get a sense that this neglected boy has been shoved by life to the margins where he’s ready to embrace any scrap of affection he can get. Chloe Moretz is maybe a tad less successful as Abby; she does an admirable job switching between a sweet lonely girl and a dangerous monster, but she lacks the otherworldly, old-soul vibe the character had in the original. Richard Jenkins is marvellous as Abby’s “father” (I guess you’d call him a familiar?), lending humanity and a sense of soul-crushing weariness to a tricky character.
Despite my various quibbles, Let Me In was obviously made with a lot of love and respect for the original material. The core story is still effective, the key scenes still retain their chilling power, and there’s more than enough good stuff to avoid the the label of an unnecessary remake.
P.S. Speaking of Abby’s familiar, while the nature of their relationship was explicit in the book and kept more ambiguous in the Swedish film, the American version spells it out while also making the disturbing parallels between their relationship and the new bond Abby develops with Owen more pronounced. I’m not sure if this was the actual intent of the film, but it made me question the sincerity of Abby’s care for Owen in a way the book and the earlier film didn’t.