I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a movie get the kind of free pass that Let Me In has been granted for nothing more than not disgracing the original it copies. And make no mistake, this pretty much is a copy of Let the Right One In (2008). OK, so Let Me In is in English, set in New Mexico, and one scene has been pointlessly transposed to the beginning of the movie so that a large chunk of the story is told in flashback—but so what? It’s still just an efficient imitation of a superior film, and it’s largely superfluous. Here’s the difference: At the end of Let the Right One In, I was exhilarated at seeing something fresh; with Let Me In, I was merely relieved that it wasn’t a travesty. If relief is an acceptable substitute for exhilaration, movies are in a bad way.
The two films have identical stories—though the character names have been changed. Here we have Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee, The Road), a much neglected (by his parents) and bedeviled (by his classmates) boy, who finds a friend in a seemingly 12-year-old girl, Abby (Chloë Grace Moretz, Kick-Ass), who moves into his apartment building. Of course, Abby isn’t 12—or rather, she’s been 12 for a very long time—and she isn’t a girl: She is a vampire. (There’s more to the character not being a girl in the original, but that—like the fact that the boy is a serial killer in the making before he meets the vampire—is downplayed here.)
All in all, Let Me In follows its model with—if anything—too much reverence. I’m intrigued by the idea that I’ve seen put forth that its 1983 setting—with its attendant pop songs and Reagan on TV in the background—is somehow an inspiration of social commentary, but I don’t see where the film supports such a reading. The Reagan clips and the songs are chosen with an eye—or an ear—to the ironic, but they don’t really go beyond that. Is it clever to hear Reagan blather on about good and evil in a film that addresses the nature of what those terms mean? Sure. Is it amusing to hear Boy George sing “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?” in this context? Yes. But what point is being made exactly?
This doesn’t mean that Let Me In is without merit. It’s a very good version of the story. It’s classy. It’s well acted. It’s still sad and disturbing. And even though its box-office returns have been tepid, it will certainly disturb far more people by simply being in English, which isn’t a bad thing. Goodness knows, audiences need disturbing every so often. But is that anything more than a situational accomplishment? I suppose you can applaud it as a gesture—and for not making it overly comfortable for the American-tourist audience. Admirable? Sure. A creative accomplishment? Not so much.
When Let Me In works, it’s because its parent model works, not because it brings anything new to the story. When it doesn’t work, it’s only partly because of the lack of freshness. It’s also because the sense of tragedy and weird sweetness—along with the sexual ambiguity—isn’t there. The material is mostly the same. The level of acting is certainly on par with the Swedish film. Yet something is missing. What? Could it be the soul of Let the Right One In? Rated R for strong bloody horror violence, language and a brief sexual situation.