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SPECIAL COVERAGE: Living With Wildfires: San Diego Firestorm 10 Years Later

Review: ‘Let Me In’

Remake is Just Not the ‘Right One’

Chloe Grace Moretz and Kodi Smit-McPhee star in

Credit: Overture Films

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

Audio

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.

Photo credit: Overture Films

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.

Photo credit: Overture Films

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.

Photo credit: Overture Films

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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