When word broke that the guy who directed “Cloverfield” was going to be remaking the 2008 Swedish film “Let the Right One In,” a collective sigh could be heard in cyberspace, as people bemoaned the perceived pointlessness of remaking such a great film. But writer-director Matt Reeves is to be commended for largely remaining true to the original while skillfully retelling the story in 1983 America.
Chloe Grace Moretz stars as Abby, a 12-year-old (“more or less”) who, along with a much older man (Richard Jenkins cast brilliantly against type) moves into a working-class apartment complex in Los Alamos, New Mexico, late one night. Watching the proceedings is Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee), who is struggling with his parents’ messy divorce, his mother’s steadily increasing religiosity and some vicious bullying at school. Soon after Abby and “The Father” move in, a local cop (Elias Koteas) finds himself on the trail of a serial killer who is draining his victims of blood.
Like all the good vampire films through the years, “Let Me In” isn’t really about drinking blood. It’s really a coming of age story, a romance – of a sad, inevitably tragic variety, and a meditation on the existence of capital-E Evil.
For all of you made seasick by Reeves’ camerawork in “Cloverfield,” fear not. This time he employs a sure and steady hand, moving the camera only when it moves the story -- there's a car crash that will leave you dizzy and breathless. Reeves has credited Smit-McPhee for periodically pointing out new and interesting camera angles, and to be sure the film is loaded with them.
Reeves also does a great job of recreating 1983 without making it feel shticky, with touches like calculator watches, the Greg Kinh Band and the video game Gorf sprinkled throughout. But his masterstroke is the inclusion of a speech given by Ronald Reagan that we see on a TV early the film that perfectly establishes the specter of doom that hung over the nation at that time.
Moretz continues to show remarkable range at an early age, having transitioned seamelessly from Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s super-precocious little sister in “(500) Days of Summer” to foul-mouthed vigilante in “Kick-Ass” to world-weary vampire. One of the great challenges of the role is playing a character who is stuck at 12, but has lived for hundreds of years, a balance she strikes nicely.
Smit-McPhee is probably the only actor working who is Moretz’s peer both in terms of age and talent. His Owen is living a tortured life, taking solace only in quiet moments alone in the courtyard gnawing on Now and Laters, while singing the candy’s jungle. But as his relationship with Moretz develops, the layers slowly fall away until we see him burst into a smile at the mere sight of her.
There are sure to be fans of “Let the Right One In” who simply not will allow themselves to enjoy "Let Me In," insisting that it can’t be as good as the original, and that’s a shame, but this a very good film on its own terms. As a wise man once said, Don’t compare, enjoy.
"Let Me In," rated R for strong bloody horror violence, language and a brief sexual situation, is in theaters everywhere