By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
By Claire Lawton
By Kiernan Maletsky
By Anna Merlan
An orphan for all practical purposes, 12-year-old Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee) has been left to sprout like a weed. At home, he gets sparse recognition from his divorcée mother; at school, he absorbs castrating taunts from a pack of bullies who've gleaned "eternal victim" from his spacey stare.
Owen fills the unstructured hours by sucking Now 'n' Laters, fantasizing empowering self-defense scenarios and peeping across the courtyard of his apartment complex. Here, he spies a potential playmate moving in, a girl around his age. Watching her shuffle through the snow in bare feet, led by her embalmed middle-aged guardian (Richard Jenkins), you might suspect they're part of a penitent religious cult. You suspect worse soon after, when the town experiences a ritual murder with vampire tracks.
The setting of Let Me In is Los Alamos, New Mexico, 1983. The feathery, slow-falling snow comes with the material's Scandinavian pedigree: Swede John Ajvide Lindqvist's novel, Let the Right One In, filmed by Tomas Alfredson in 2008, was a boutique hit enough to attract this American remake by Cloverfield director Matt Reeves. Lina Leandersson's mysterious neighbor is replaced by Chloe Moretz's Abby, waifish, home-school-creepy and even more socially maladjusted than Owen. On the common ground of isolation, they thaw to each other. Unknown to Owen, if not the viewer, is the fact that Abby's trauma has something to do with the killings, which her guardian is seen to be involved in, which she may be a party to, and to which Owen, as their courtship deepens, will become an accomplice.
Reeves adopts the International-style flatness of Alfredson's film, a mixture of "philosophical" long shots, brittle scoring, slowed-pulse performances and blankness passing as clarity. In an opening that assigns Elias Koteas' cop to investigate the killings, it's clear this will be a movie with lots of dialogue pitched as if there's a colicky infant sleeping in the next room. Reeves' alterations include feeding the plot through Koteas' police-procedural and a Significant Effect in which Owen's mom is seen always with her face just out of frame or as an out-of-focus blur.
Lindqvist's novel and its permutations are akin to the Twilight franchise in their marriage of "doomed young lovers" and vampire tropes. But where Steph Meyer preaches abstinence, Let Me In keeps its hungry carnivores well-fed, as meek Owen gets a confidence boost from supernatural protection, on the way to a grisly Revenge of the Nerds.
If irreligious, Let Me In believes in the sanctity of suffering, with close-ups of Smit-McPhee swallowing his shamed tears to the Northwest Boychoir. The child performances are credible, likewise the feel for pubescent isolation and vulnerability. But Reeves' measured style barely conceals a pandering Young Adult sentimentality as the movie approaches ultimate comeuppance for Owen's tormentors.
Let Me In is a slow build-up to irreparable action, to Owen and Abby's joining paths as a fatal couple. And there is scant indication that the rest of humanity is anything more than livestock for sensitive souls to feed on. There's a human tragedy somewhere here—but aggrandized puppy-love romance and stylish revenge fantasy are all that linger.
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