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Review: ‘Let Me In’

Remake is Just Not the ‘Right One’

Above: Chloe Grace Moretz and Kodi Smit-McPhee star in "Let Me In."


Aired 9/30/10

On the KPBS Film Club of the Air the critics discuss Let Me In.

“Let Me In” (opening October 1 throughout San Diego) is a remake of the sweetly horrific Swedish film “Let the Right One In.” In a nutshell: Please see the original. You can listen to our Film Club of the Air discussion as well.

On its own “Let Me In” is not necessarily a bad film. If I had never seen “Let the Right One In,” I might even like it. But the problem is that I have seen “Let the Right One In” and anything good in the remake comes directly from the original (with the exception of a spectacular car crash). It would be like someone painting a copy of the Mona Lisa. The copy might look close enough to the original to be applauded for its craft or skill but really why do we need a copy when we have the original to admire?

Matt Reeves, the man who directed “Cloverfield,” takes the helm for this remake. How he can take the credit “written and directed by Matt Reeves” seems almost laughable when you note how similar the script and the direction are to the original. A “lifted by” or “facsimile by” might be more accurate. If you are going to remake a film, you should have some reason – besides making money – driving you. The remakes that work have all done this: John Carpenter’s “The Thing” (based on “The Thing from Another World”); “The Magnificent Seven” (based on “The Seven Samurai”); “Star Wars” (inspired by Kurosawa’s “The Hidden Fortress”). These films can stand on their own and more importantly could be played on a double bill with their original and still hold their own.

Chloe Grace Moretz and Kodi Smit-McPhee in "Let Me In."

Overture Films

Above: Chloe Grace Moretz and Kodi Smit-McPhee in "Let Me In."

The premise of both “Let the Right One In” and “Let Me In” is a relationship between two twelve year old children: one is a boy bullied severely at school by the other kids and the other is a vampire.

Reeves’ choice as to how to start his remake signals the beginning of the problems. He opens with an ambulance racing down a road and a bloodied man dying. It’s an action start, something to hook the audience right away. That’s a very American attitude toward horror. The original film was a slow build (actually I just saw “The Exorcist” and it too had a wonderfully slow build but then William Friedkin said he didn’t approach it as a horror films). “Let the Right One In” didn’t signal from the start that it was a horror film. It came at you slowly, introducing two lonely and ostracized children who took a liking to each other. Then it slowly revealed information to suggest the story was taking you in a different direction. And it in the end the original film is in many ways more a comedy of age film than a horror films.

Kodi Smit-McPhee and Chloe Grace Moretz in "Let Me In."

Overture Films

Above: Kodi Smit-McPhee and Chloe Grace Moretz in "Let Me In."

“Let Me In” makes obvious all that the original film made subtle and does so with less complexity. In the new film the pre-teen romance is more obvious, the fact that the girl is not human is signaled from the start, and the violence is more blatant (and made even worse by atrocious CGI work that makes the vampire look like Gollum on crack). Plus everything looks dark and ominous. One of the cool things about the original was how the two kids come together, each fulfilling a need for the other. Vampire girl picks the bullied boy because she senses in him not just a compassion for her but also a violent streak that will serve him well as her daytime protector and food provider.

The new film benefits from a lovely pair of young performers. Chloe Grace Moretz as Abby and Kodi Smit-McPhee as Owen are both worthy successors to the original cast. Moretz, who recently scored as the very different Hit Girl, is allowed to show a less flashy side of her talent in this considerably quieter role. Smit-McPhee has an pale ethereal look that almost makes him look more vampiric than Moretz. Both performers find an appealing vulnerable core to their characters but don’t give them the edge that the original ones had. They help lift this film above being a mere genre film and provide a little depth in ways the director cannot.

Kodi Smit-McPhee as Owen in "Let Me In."

Overture Films

Above: Kodi Smit-McPhee as Owen in "Let Me In."

“Let Me In” leaves me conflicted. I usually wouldn't compare a remake and an original so closely but the fact that Reeves chooses to bring so little of his own vision to the film leaves me little choice. In terms of the current crop of American horror, it at least tries to push genre conventions yet it only does so in ways that are imitative. It also reveals no originality apart from designing a stunning car crash, the best I’ve seen since “Adaptation’s” shocker. Yet I have to subtract points for the fact that in trying to copy the famous pool scene from the original, he completely blows it, missing both the beauty and the horror of the first. The film reveals Reeves to be a far better director than “Cloverfield” let on yet how much can a remake like this really reveal of a director’s talent. Having seen the original film -- a film that made a powerful impression on me and a film I instantly fell in love with – I simply cannot admire what Reeves does with the remake. The best I can do is commend his skill at imitating the original.

“Let Me In” (rated R for strong bloody horror violence, language and a brief sexual situation) is for mainstream audiences who don’t want to read subtitles and have never seen the original film. That audience will probably embrace “Let Me In” and never feel cheated in any way. But I hope it makes them willing to check out the original film as well. Please.

Companion viewing: “Let the Right One In,” “Near Dark,” “The Lost Boys," "The Devil's Backbone"

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Avatar for user 'IanForbes'

IanForbes | October 2, 2010 at 12:10 a.m. ― 6 years, 5 months ago

Wholehearted agreement, Beth. If you haven't seen the original, this does the bare minimum and is far better than most in the genre done by Hollywood (I'm looking at you "Twilight"). However, the full beauty and subtlety isn't brought out unless one is willing to undergo the true horror for so many American audiences: reading subtitles.

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Avatar for user 'Beth Accomando'

Beth Accomando, KPBS Staff | October 2, 2010 at 12:33 a.m. ― 6 years, 5 months ago

Glad you appreciated the original and I can only hope this remake makes some people seek that original out.

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Avatar for user 'sconard82'

sconard82 | October 2, 2010 at 8:08 a.m. ― 6 years, 5 months ago

Agreed. I also find it bothersome that the US version turns the vampire into a female when Eli (in the book and original movie) was actually a castrated male.

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Avatar for user 'GotMe'

GotMe | October 3, 2010 at 1:58 a.m. ― 6 years, 5 months ago

I have to agree with this review and I am disappointed how well received Let Me In is. I think it's to soon and unnecessary to make a remake.

People always talk about the work of the directors, but usually miss out to mention the work of the cinematographers. Hoyte van Hoytema did a wonderful job on the original. Every time I watch Let The Right One In I am struck by the beautiful shots.

Why should someone make a remake if the original is actually good?

Usually I would go for a remake if I see a movie with potential that was poorly executed or missed some opportunities.

I already had some issues with the remake of REC. And IMO american filmmakers lost the touch for horror movies.

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Avatar for user 'steelborn'

steelborn | October 3, 2010 at 8:43 p.m. ― 6 years, 5 months ago

A friend was at a Producers Guild screening of Let Me In, and there was a Q&A afterward.

The producers tried to convince the audience that it's a mistake to call "Let Me In" a remake of "Let The Right One In". They said Hammer optioned the English language film rights to the "Let Me In" novel before the non-English language film "Let The Right One In" was released.

They went on to say most of the people involved in "Let Me In" did not see "Let The Right One In" before they started filming in New Mexico. They said they were nervous that people would start referring to their version as a remake once "Let The Right One In" started getting such good reviews.

I wasn't there, so this is all second hand, but I call shenanigans. That is the same kind of studio lie that is used when they don't want to pay the people who actually created a film. The producers will claim the film didn't make it's money back (I think New Line tried that with Lord of The Rings).

I saw Let Me In just so I could see how close they were. It's a remake. When your credits say "based on the screenplay & novel," and then you copy scenes and even some compositions & tone, it's a remake.
While "Let Me In" is not bad, it is a remake. And I agree the whole flashback opening was pointless, and why did we need Elias Koteas' character anyway? They eliminated the friends of some of the victims from the original and created the cop. Isn't that less dramatic? At least friends have some stake in finding the killers. A cop is just doing his job.

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Avatar for user 'Beth Accomando'

Beth Accomando, KPBS Staff | October 3, 2010 at 11 p.m. ― 6 years, 5 months ago

Martin Scorsese also claimed that The Departed is not a remake of Infernal Affairs so maybe filmmakers just have a problem admitting that what they are doing is not original. It's quite possible that many of the cast and crew did not see the original but writer-director Matt Reeves definitely saw it.

And thanks for pointing out the cinematographer of the first film. I was hooked on that film from the ethereal opening shot where the young boy looked like a ghostly apparition reflected in the window.

Thanks to everyone for the comments. I'm glad you all have an appreciation for the original.

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Avatar for user 'screwthiscrap'

screwthiscrap | October 12, 2010 at 9:24 p.m. ― 6 years, 5 months ago

I saw the original and I've seen the remake. Neither of these is impressive to me. Given that this remake has generated only slightly over $9 million in two weeks on over 2,000 screens speaks volumes to what the artists have made and what the public wants. I don't think either movie is bad, but in my opinion the plotting is slow in both, and the payoff gives no one an arc worth sitting through this movie for. I don't appreciate either. Sure, the cinematography is nice enough in both, but with all the technology available today, and the more than adequate what.

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