Let Me In

Movie Information

The Story: A neglected and picked-on boy makes friends with the new girl in his apartment building -- who, it turns out, is actually a vampire. The Lowdown: This supremely efficient copy of Let the Right One In suffers by comparison with the original, but will likely play well to the uninitiated.
Genre: Horror Remake
Director: Matt Reeves (Cloverfield)
Starring: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Chloë Grace Moretz, Richard Jenkins, Elias Koteas, Cara Buono
Rated: R

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.

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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9 thoughts on “Let Me In

  1. googergieger

    How is this considered a fresh rating at rottentomatoes? I agree with this review and quite a few others that are considered fresh. It’s a pretty good movie, but what Reeves did was basically make a pretty good movie out of a great one. Something pretty forgetful out of an instant classic. I really can’t believe majority of reviews are saying, “it’s good because the original is good and the few changes he did bring to the table, didn’t completely destroy the movie.” Which to me should basically say as a remake, it fails. As a remake should be made to either improve on the source, or to bring some substantial and meaningful changes to the table, that find a way to get to the important and special things of the original, or to use the substantial and meaningful changes to find a new place to go form the important and special things of the original.

    Also the score, cgi, and constant need for characters in the movie to openly say their motivations/thoughts/feelings in more often than not dramatic whispers, would make this, if it were a stand alone movie a seven at best for me. The fact it’s a remake of a brilliant movie, which means, it didn’t even think anything up on it’s own, makes it a five.

    Again, really surprised this review is considered fresh on rottentomatoes.

  2. Ken Hanke

    Again, really surprised this review is considered fresh on rottentomatoes.

    It’s considered fresh because it got 3 1/2 stars (out of 5), which simply means that it’s not a bad movie. The problem with it is the same as the problem with the whole star or number or letter grade or whatever rating — it’s shorthand that doesn’t give you a true picture of the review. But review sites and publications insist on these things.

  3. cworkman

    I have to admit, I prefer this film to the original. I don’t agree that it only succeeds where it’s imitating the original. On the contrary, where it succeeds most is when it diverges from LET THE RIGHT ONE IN (such as the murder sequences involving Abby’s guardian, particularly one that concludes with something neither in the original film or the book yet far surpasses them both), or when it ads nuance that is missing from the original (such as when Owen reaches out to Abby’s victim, but rather than trying to help him, closes the door so that Abby can finish killing him). The scene in which Owen calls his father on the telephone is particularly touching (not least because Kodi Smitt-McPhee plays it so well) and sums up in three minutes what takes the original film ten to fifteen minutes yet doesn’t quite pull off. This version also deletes the terrible digital cat scene (though I can’t say I love the digital Abby attack sequences all that much more, but at least they’re very short and mostly in the dark or the background). Now, do I wish they’d included more of the sexual ambiguity? Sure. But at the same time, the original film is a lot less ambiguous than the novel, which spells it all out, unfortunately, in lip-smacking detail. (The original film is an improvement on the book and comes close to perfection; the new film is an improvement on the original film and comes even closer to perfection.)All of that said, I agree that clips of Reagan speaking in the background and the music, while well used, are not making any kind of political statement, as so many critics seem to think, but are merely being used to establish period detail – which is another thing wrong with the original. Whereas there the period detail is summed up solely by a Rubiks cube and some corduroy pants, here its represented in various games, music, television clips, clothes, and automobiles, etc.

  4. Ken Hanke

    I disagree on most points, but then I liked the animatronic cats in the original. However, the sexual ambiguity is really cut right out of this version — from the minute they cast the female lead who is so completely not androgynous. I am curious as to what actual difference it makes — if it makes no political statement — that the film is better (or at least more detailed) in depicting the time period?

  5. googergieger

    A lot of people seem to like the remake, on very superficial reasons. The original film made sense. Everything in it complimented each other. In the remake it is all spelled out and works solely because it has to. In the original Oskar drops the knife and turns his back on Eli killing Lacke(who had reason to go after Eli and his death meant something too). When Oskar drops the knife and turns his back on it, it shows us Oskar isn’t Hakan. Oskar will never be Hakan. Oskar is seemingly no use to Eli outside of being the one person in the world that can bring humanity back to Eli. While Eli brings out that inner strentgh and confidence in Oskar.

    In the remake we are point blank told, Owen will be the next caretaker/father because the father/caretaker was the last Owen. Which is one interpretation found in the original movie, but not the only one. Especially when reading the book which demolishes that theory. Because that story makes it a rather conventional horror one.

    Hakan’s relationship to Eli specifically relates to the relationship between Eli and Oskar. It makes sense she doesn’t know how to act around kids, it makes sense she’s combative, it makes sense he’s very guarding of himself, etc. Eli and Oskar also having the one big thing in common. Isolation. The shots, color, and great job of highlighting the cold, did a great job to enhance the entire isolated feeling. Even with his overbearing mother(who is understandably too busy to actually pay attention to her son and his problems), alcoholic father, teacher(that is only acting like a teacher), he really has nothing to hold him down. Nothing to tell him, you are alright the way you are. That is much more realistic. That is much more relatable. That is much more confident in it’s audience to understand things without spelling them out. Which the remake did. A lot of. The remake constantly had characters telling you what they think and feel. Which makes it so you know what they are thinking and feeling, but at the cost of actually feeling and empathizing with them.

    Two more quick things. The car crash sequence, is very good on a technical level. However it screams the man wants to be caught. After he literally told Abbey maybe he does want to be caught. Which again, is a determent not a strong point. The last thing I’ll mention is, what I think really does illustrate how the original film was miles better, and how Reeves simply made a pretty good movie out of a great one. Which he literally did.

    When Oskar is in the pool and was threatened. The second Eli left, was the second Oskar lost that inner strentgh/confidence. The second Eli left, he was already a push over again. Not so much in Owen’s case. Where Reeves needed an action to follow to the pool, instead of thinking about what would be the best action for the character to take and do. Not the best action, but the most likely one they’d do.

    And yeah Ken that makes sense. I find it kind of disheartening that is the case. As most people are championing the amazing reviews for the remake, but really most are lukewarm. They are literally saying it’s good because the original is good, which doesn’t really make for an amazing review. Just a, he get’s a pass because it could have been a lot worse.

  6. cworkman

    Well, Ken, if you saw animatronic cats, then you may need to rewatch the original film, because they were mostly created digitally – and look like it. (And I have to ask, if you didn’t even notice something this obvious, what else might you have missed in the original film or in the remake?)

    Period detail is designed to let you know when a story is taking place. The original film takes place in the early 1980s as well, but you wouldn’t know that if you hadn’t read the book or there was something briefly directly telling you, unlike in LET ME IN, where the detail is so richly created. The idea that period detail should only be used to establish political points rather than to transport viewers to a specific time and place seems rather silly to me, but you are, of course, welcome to disagree.

    I will agree with you that Chloe Moretz is nowhere nearly as adrongynous as the original actress, though she’s just as good. I do wish this film had contained more of that sexual ambiguity, as it’s so much a part of the novel (and to a much lesser extent, the original film).

  7. Ken Hanke

    Well, Ken, if you saw animatronic cats, then you may need to rewatch the original film, because they were mostly created digitally – and look like it. (And I have to ask, if you didn’t even notice something this obvious, what else might you have missed in the original film or in the remake?)

    Well, Chris, if you’re so fixated on this sort of thing, what else might you have missed?

    The idea that period detail should only be used to establish political points rather than to transport viewers to a specific time and place seems rather silly to me, but you are, of course, welcome to disagree.

    I disagree because there is absolutely no reason for it to be set in the early 1980s unless it’s to make a point. It isn’t like the early 1980s are some exciting period to set the movie in, nor do they have anything to do with it. But I feel better that I have your permission to disagree with you.

  8. rhodes

    I haven’t seen the remake (just released today in Australia) but caught the original on TV a few nights ago. I also haven’t read the book but still, reading some reviews here and IMDB it seems a major aspect intended by the author was lost. It would have made it much darker and creepier, whereas it seems the remake is a light vampire romance? Anyway here is my take:
    Apparently the Swedish director left out Eli’s backstory after shooting it. Some say the story is a simple love story between Eli (Abby in remake) and Oskar but it obviously is a lot more than that. It can be seen as a coldly calculated move simply to replace the old man Eli is living with at the beginning of the movie (who we viewers are led to believe might be “her” father but later we learn is not; this is the character played by Richard Jenkins in the remake–the “guardian”). I do not know but I am guessing the backstory may have revealed that he was the previous 12 year old boy that Eli seduced–some 60 years earlier–into some romantic/sexual lifetime bondage to do Eli’s bidding; but of course when he grows old and decrepit and starts failing to provide the fresh human blood Eli needs, he is brutally and gruesomely sacrificed. (He is human and it is important that Eli does not “infect” him because then he would become a competitor rather than servant. Exactly as with Oskar.) And worse, it cannot be any, ahem “normal” sexual bondage due to Eli’s castrato condition, so it ramps up the creepiness another notch. Given Eli’s age and physical condition one can see that he/she has little choice in replacement target victim/servant—hence Oskar. (The remake may be well played but turning this into a sweet romance seems a tad American, n’est pas?) And Eli has been doing this at about 60 year intervals since the 18th century (possibly when Eli was a choirboy in Vienna? I need to read the book.) Brrrrr…creepier than the actual final movie, even the Swedish one. And possibly better. The original had these creepy undertones but the removal of the back-story seems a curious omission, especially given the very late and brief revelation of Eli’s physical condition. In any case I am going to get the Swedish DVD.

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