There is a certain anticipatory dread that accompanies the arrival of an American remake of a splendid foreign film. In the case of Let Me In, that dread is warranted, not because this is another sloppy, dumbed down, hyperactive remake, but because it is faithful to the original, a dread-steeped, marrow chilling story of the horrors of prepubescent adolescence.
Let Me In, based on the Swedish Film Let the Right One In (2009), in turn based on John Ajvide Lindqvist's novel, is a kind of vampire love story, but it departs radically from the dominant romantic vampire paradigm of the moment, with its lust, sex and noisy supernatural battles between werewolves and vampires (true of both the teencentric Twilight movies and the hyper-sexy, hyper-violent HBO series True Blood). Let Me In zeroes in on a different variety of pre-teen and pre-sexual anxiety and violence, exploring the rage and terror of bullied, tormented, 12 year old Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee), whose everday existence is filled with dread even before he meets the vampire girl next door.
Owen's parents are divorcing, and he's lonely, bored and fearful. It's 1983, in Los Alamos, NM. Reagan is on TV talking about evil empires, and Culture Club and David Bowie are on the radio (and in the movie's soundtrack). Owen lives in a shabby apartment complex with his mother, and spends his evenings killing time in the snowy, bleak courtyard, gorging on Now-and-Later candies. His Now is something he's desperate to escape, but what Later does he anticipate in chilly Reagan-era America? Surely not the arrival of an interesting and mysterious neighbor, a 12 year old girl named Abby (Chloë Grace Moretz), who quickly informs him that they cannot be friends. For Owen, it hardly matters -- he'll take what friendship he can find, even if it's of a strange and tentative kind. Abby, for her part, feels protective of Owen, and he desperately needs a protector, as the bullies who torment him at school become increasingly vicious and predatory.
Abby is pale and peculiar, a barefoot child who looks poorly cared for by her weary, middle-aged guardian (Richard Jenkins). He acts as a procurer, an unwilling serial killer whose task is to find blood for Abby -- she's a vampire -- and thus to keep her hidden from the world. He's not very good at killing, which brings him to the attention of a dogged police detective (Elias Koteas), investigating the recent rash of what he suspects are satanic cult killings.
The film is evocatively dark and shadowy, and the cinematography by Greig Fraser beautifully communicates the isolation, bewilderment and directionlessness of Owen and Abby, two kids who, for different reasons, find themselves uprooted, unmoored, unsettled, and vulnerable. Moretz (Kick-Ass) and Smit-McPhee (The Road) are both hauntingly effective in their depictions of the very specific isolations of Abby and Owen, and their mutual, quietly desperate yearning for non-sexual intimacy and love.
Let Me In was written and directed by Matt Reeves, whose last film, Cloverfield, was a hot mess, a tiresome, gimmicky faux home movie about the destruction of New York -- and a handful of stupid, annoying characters -- by monster. Let Me In -- although it makes somewhat more liberal use of special effects than its Swedish predecessor -- is more evocative of the angsty, yearning TV drama Felicity, which Reeves co-created, than Cloverfield. The director's affinity for stories of adolescent intensity and fragility is ideally suited to the eerie, moody Let Me In, a delicately, emotionally haunting horror story that is only incidentally about vampires, and at its heart is about the horrors of being twelve (and even worse, for Abby, forever twelve). Let Me In resists mythologizing vampires and youth -- two things pop culture is perpetually intent on mythologizing and glamorizing -- and in so doing, it is memorably, poignantly chilling.