For those looking for an exciting horror film, Let Me In is almost sure to disappoint. It’s not that there aren’t moments of suspense or gore, but it is a much quieter film. Almost meditative in its telling of the story of a lonely boy who finds solace in a young female vampire.
Some have questioned the need for Let Me In when the Swedish original, Let the Right One In, was a fine film released only two years earlier. I enjoyed the original quite a bit. Both films tell the same story well but I found this US version a more well crafted film overall.
Strange things are going on in Los Alamos, New Mexico. People are getting murdered and the motives aren’t clear. Meanwhile, a twelve year-old boy, Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee), is struggling with a different kind of evil at school in the form of bullies who torment him in some viscous ways. There appears to be no justice in sight for Owen or the people of Los Alamos. Owen is left to fend for himself. His mother, who we see little of, is an almost Charlie Brown teacher like figure. She is there, we don’t see her much, we hear her some but nothing she says really registers.
Owen sits outside in the winter cold and fantasizes about one day getting revenge on his enemies. Much to his surprise, a new neighbor girl, Abby (Chloe Moretz) is sitting behind him, quietly observing Owen. She has no shoes on and doesn’t look the least bit cold. The two have an abrupt first exchange. Eventually they strike up a friendship. Owen observes that Abby is different but doesn’t seem to mind. He craves the attention and care. Along the way Abby gives Owen advice on how to best handle his adversaries at school – hit back harder. He flinches at first and gives reasons why this is easier said than done. Abby doesn’t budge and eventually Owen follows the advice. He strikes back at the main bully with a metal pole and slices the kid’s ear. Thus begins a journey down a dark path for Owen.
Smit-McPhee as Owen and Moretz as Abby do the heavy lifting in regards to the acting, never a small task for young performers. These two do an excellent job of making their individual characters believable and the relationship between the two even more so. They’re the center of attention and there is never a moment where it feels disingenuous or over played.
The killings in the town continue and we discover who is doing the killing. And we also know when a murder or something terrible is about to happen, as the soundtrack blatantly sends its cues without any nuance. It’s not unusual for horror or thrillers to use this technique to heighten suspense but it backfires in the case where it is overused.
Modern day vampire tales seem infatuated with romanticizing the idea of those who live forever off the blood of others but somehow remain good hearted loving beings who just need to find the right mate. Unfortunately, this take on vampires betrays the original lore. Let Me In returns to vampire lore of old and shows evil in all its different forms. The struggle for Owen isn’t so much about finding a friend in the midst of his pain but that of choosing good in the face of evil. One can’t help but feel this theme running throughout the film as it’s set in the 80’s and Ronald Reagan is heard from TVs playing in the background speaking about this very struggle. Whether the evil the former president speaks of was just that is irrelevant. The choices for Owen are cloudy at first but become painfully clear as he learns more about his so-called friend Abby. It is within this struggle that I found Let Me In to be fascinating. The film’s theme is much deeper than it would first appear.
Matt Reeves, the director, leaves a distinct fingerprint on his films. He directed Cloverfield, a movie I enjoyed quite a bit. The camera work there was that of found footage, shaky to the point of nausea inducing, here it is drastically different. Every shot is meticulous. There is heavy use of shooting through or around objects. Looking through a door’s peep hole. Owen spying on his neighbors with the camera taking Owen’s point of view through the telescope. The intense car scenes are made even more so by the shot selection. If Spielberg made a horror film I imagine it would look and feel a lot like Let Me In.