Thursday, October 7, 2010

Let Me In

In Let Me In, directed by Matt Reeves (Cloverfield), a twelve-year-old boy named Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee of The Road) lives in fear of a sadistic school bully. Sadder still is Owen’s life because his mother is divorced, she drinks to anaesthetize, and she isn’t around very much. On top of that Owen lives in a shabby apartment complex outside of Los Alamos, New Mexico. (Can Los Alamos be as shabby and dismal as this movie seems to suggest?) Here he loiters all alone in the snow-covered courtyard where the playground jungle-gym bars mirror the pattern of the Rubik’s cube he plays with to pass the time. Then new residents arrive: a twelve-year-old girl named Amy (Chloë Grace Moretz of Kickass) accompanied by a slouching, dried up old “Father” (Richard Jenkins) who seems enslaved by this little girl’s needs. When Owen and Amy develop a tender, warm relationship, and Amy emboldens Owen to stand up to the bully, we get one of the most touching portrayals of young love I have seen in a long time. That Amy is a vampire adds terror to poignancy in a film that gripped me and got my full attention more than any other movie in the past two months.

After the blood-sucking overkill of Daybreakers, I swore I was done with vampire movies, but I was glad I let this one in, mostly because of the touching interactions between Smit-McPhee, who makes Owen’s courage and character belie his pale face and scrawny build, and Moretz, whose soft tones and large, wan eyes express Amy’s initial weariness with Owen’s neediness but eventually express the love for him she needs at this point in her immortality.

Set mostly in the derelict apartment complex that stands as an unreal world separated from the real world where a police detective (Elias Koteas), disheveled and haggard, tries to solve the mystery of bloody deaths he calls “ritual slayings,” the fact that Amy is a vampire just seems part of the deal. With a mournful score, the film succeeds at disturbing you while it touches you with Smit-McPhee and Moretz’s performances. Disturbing indeed is the mystery surrounding the identity of Amy’s “Father” and how he came to be enslaved as a blood collector for his “daughter.”

Playing straight with vampire lore, Let Me In stays away from Twilight silliness. Direct sunlight doesn’t make a vampire sparkle; it engulfs them in flames. Daytime is strictly off limits. Whereas renditions of Dracula depict the vampire lord merely snarling at the blood droplets coming from a human visitor’s accident with cutlery or razor, Amy's reaction to the blood dripping from Owen's cut hand is a chilling, stomach-churning scene of unbridled vampire bloodlust.

What works best here is the story of star-crossed lovers that plays out as fantasy in the most dismal, other worldly apartment complex I've ever seen, as well as in a negligent school mostly presided over by an unshaven gym teacher with a Hungarian accent. Silliness results from a scene ruined by poor make-up as well as from an ill-conceived resolution, but all is made worth while by a gripping scene in which “Father” stages a kidnapping that goes wrong and ends up in a violent car wreck during which you never see the other cars, and a glorious scene of orgasmic bloodletting that is exhilarating wish-fulfillment for anyone who has ever lived in fear of schoolyard bullying.


Simon said...

I liked the return of inviting vampires into your home. I missed that trope.

Richard Bellamy said...

Yes, I like more traditional vampires, Simon. In Daybreakers they were okay if they were in the shade during daytime. Ridiculous! Amy had to sleep in an enclosed place like Nosferatu.

Craig said...

Haven't seen this, but the original would be hard to top for darkly romantic atmosphere. I've been surprised to read the number of critics who thought this one better; whereas a large number of "regular" movie buffs, in a nice reversal, swear by the original.

Richard Bellamy said...

Craig, now I'll have to see the original and let you know how I feel about it. I really enjoyed this movie - and it's certainly darkly romantic - but it has a couple of gripping scenes thrown in as well.

Sam Juliano said...

"With a mournful score, the film succeeds at disturbing you while it touches you with Smit-McPhee and Moretz’s performances."

Aye Hokahey, and you have penned an excellent assessment of a film that does stand on it's own. LET THE RIGHT ONE IN is a stronger film for the reasons discussed on this thread, but more importantly because it was the film that first presented this story and material. As accomplished as LET ME IN is it basically replicates teh Swedish film scene for scene. Even my kids (who all saw the film with us in the theatre) knew exactly what would happen next, having seen the original as well. There were some slight variations on the basic material.

Richard Bellamy said...

Once again, Sam, glad to have your comments here. Actually, Jason read your comment on Getafilm and then e-mailed me and solved the problem for me.

Not having seen the Swedish version, I had no point of comparison, and I enjoyed this movie a lot for the above-stated reasons. Very touching performances and some very chilling scenes. Now I have to check out the original.