Trading in a rare sunny day in Wellington for the cool darkness of the cinema and the snowy desolation of Los Alamos, New Mexico I check out Matt “Cloverfield” Reeve’s remake of the Swedish vampire classic Let the Right One In.
I’ll give my overall verdict up front: it’s not as good as the original. But, it’s also better than an American remake (especially of a vampire film) has any right to be. Some of this is down to the wonderful performances by Kodi Smit-McPhee (as the loner Owen) and Chloe Moretz (as the young vampire Abby), but a lot of it is down to Matt Reeves and the choices he makes.
Beyond some fairly basic comparisons, I’ll try and not get too involved in resemblances between the two films: it has been a while since I saw Let the Right One In and Let Me In can be judged as its own beast. The most jarring difference is Reeves’ use of CGI over more practical effects work. This becomes most noticeable when it augments Abby’s ferocious feeding attacks; the CG Abby moves unnaturally – not the naturalistic unnatural you would get from a performer, but the herky jerky puppet like movements of a digital creation. It’s a little off-putting.
What works better, is that Reeves has a decent handle on tone and mood, better than Cloverfield and its "found footage" aesthetic would have you believe. He has a real feel for the strange alienation a young person, particularly an unpopular one, can experience. In Owen's case, being simultaneously on the cusp of puberty and having to deal with constant, terrifying bullying with no-one to turn to because his parents are wrapped up in their divorce.
Two of the foremost character actors working today also help proceedings by delivering commonly fine performances. So much so, I actually wanted to see more of both of them. Richard Jenkins plays Abby's "father" and the continually shifting dynamics in their obviously long and complex relationship are kept understated. Elias Koteas is the detective doggedly pursuing the investigation into the horrific murders committed and he gives the kind of solid performance that can easily go unnoticed; it's not flashy or overwrought.
Overall, this is an intriguing remake: it’s not the typical American cash grab. Reeves maintains the period setting (although, not in an overtly cheesy or off-putting way), the sombre tone and the strange, lonely boy as the central character. This is actually personal for Reeves – he was bullied as a child and you get the sense of a very real anger directed at these tormentors.