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Let Me In is a succulent remake of Let the Right One In, the highly-regarded Swedish vampire movie.

Romeo and Draculet

Abby and Owen
Abby and Owen

At a basic level, Let Me In is faithful to the original movie, which in turn was based on screenwriter John Ajvide Lindqvist’s own novel. The story is identical and the characters, aside from a couple astute alterations, remain the same, but writer/director Matt Reeves (Cloverfield) has also patched up some holes in the source material and amped up not only the horror and the drama, but also the melancholy and the innocence.

Of course, the location has changed. Instead of communist-tinged suburban Stockholm in 1982, Let Me In takes place in Reagan-era Los Alamos, New Mexico, in 1983. But the primary setting is still a blue-collar, low-rent apartment complex with a snowy courtyard.

It’s there that a bullied 12-year-old little boy, Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee, The Road), meets his new neighbor, Abby (Chloe Grace Moretz, Kick-Ass), a 12-year-old girl who avoids daylight. And she’s been 12 for a long, long time.

The two forge a unique friendship as the boy learns to stand up for himself and the girl endures her own sinister episodes that go way beyond mere pubescence.

Now and Later

This is one of those rare cases where the remake’s tinkering adds to the material rather than detracts from it. Let Me In and Let the Right One In can sit side by side as fully complementary movie experiences.

While the Swedish boy, Oskar, had a morbid fascination with murder as a result of his being bullied, his American counterpart, Owen, comes across as far more innocent. He’s a boy who’s bought a knife to defend himself, he just needs the guts to use it. No doubt he would’ve rather spent the money on his favorite candies, spoiling his appetite and further depriving his ultra-skinny body of nutrients. Perhaps some of Owen’s perceived innocence stems from Smit-McPhee, at times, bearing a striking resemblance to Henry Thomas in E.T.

In any case, the fascination with murder in the original has morphed into an over-arching rumination on evil in Let Me In. In the early going, Ronald Reagan is seen on a lo-def TV; he’s addressing the press and talking about all the evil in the world. Later, Owen asks his father about the existence of evil and his father immediately starts to question the religious shenanigans of his estranged wife.

In the midst of those contemplations, a group of kids exhibits one level of evil, mean-spirited bullying, which in turn is the byproduct of an older brother’s bullying of his younger sibling. At the same time, Abby’s guardian seeks out victims to keep his charge alive. And Abby exhibits her own bloodlust, one that can swing between pure necessity and brutal retribution.

Dismemberment and Tranquility

Let Me In is surprisingly thoughtful and thought provoking and it sets itself apart from other horror movies – and other coming of age movies, for that matter.

All of the characters are shrouded by a heavy layer of melancholy. There’s no victory lap after Owen lashes back at the bullies. Instead, he’s the one who gets sent to the principal’s office. And there’s no sense of joy after Owen’s first kiss.

The tone shifts between the morose and the grisly; a scene of gruesome dismemberment is followed by a scene of pure tranquility. A display of violence is followed by a picture of innocence.

Credit must be given to the movie’s extremely young stars, Moretz and Smit-McPhee, for handling the delicate and dark material with an unusual aplomb. They make their characters — and the story — work extremely well. Given the touchy material Moretz handled in Kick-Ass, here’s to hoping she doesn’t turn into the next Lindsay Lohan or worse.

At times, the movie feels too somber and plodding. Even so, that approach does create an atmosphere and a feeling that amplifies what the lead characters experience. Without a dobut, while hitting on some of the same themes found in the phenomenally successfully Twilight series, Let Me In is much more accessible and relatable to a broader range of audiences.

Go and Live or Stay and Die

Given the movie’s considerable strengths, there are still a couple bones to pick.

In particular, the use of typical Hollywood CGI effects is out of place in this relatively grounded story. Let the Right One In relied heavily on pure practical effects and the end result was more startling, more real. No matter how far the technology has come, pixels are no match for real people performing live stunts. To that end, Abby’s Swedish counterpart, Eli, provides more impact in both her attacks and her wall-scaling talents.

Another, rather minor, disappointment is Michael Giacchino’s overdone and pervasive score. A mix of choral voices and old school organs and strings, it certainly is a moody work. Fresh off his Oscar win for Up, however, Giacchino should have greater awareness of when simple silence can be more effective.

Those gripes aside, Let Me In manages to make an indelible impact while creating a world of broken families, moral compromise, and lost innocence that all leads to a touching – and creepy – conclusion. Let Me In has more meat to bite into than the typical vampire movie.