Dir. Matt Reeves
(2010, R, 115 min)
★ ★ ★

I groaned at the news that Let the Right One In was being remade. The original Swedish film was released just two years ago to acclaim and a cult following, but darn those subtitles! American audiences can’t be expected to read! To say the least, I approached the new film, re-titled Let Me In, with skepticism, but as directed by Matt Reeves (Cloverfield) it’s a well-made facsimile, extremely faithful, if still entirely unnecessary. If you’re not familiar with the original, you won’t be disappointed. If you are familiar, well, you probably won’t be disappointed either, but it won’t show you much you haven’t seen already. Some scenes are recreated almost shot for shot.

If I prefer the original, it’s not only a matter of familiarity. Reeves doesn’t quite have the mastery of atmosphere that the earlier film’s director Tomas Alfredson did, the same elegance of camera or expert use of cinematography and score. The music for Let Me In is composed by the great Michael Giacchino (Up) and sometimes feels too warm and sentimental. He’s emphasizing, I presume, the kinship between twelve-year-old Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee) and his otherworldly friend Abby (Chloe Grace Moretz), but doesn’t quite capture the inherent darkness or danger.

The story has moved from Sweden to Los Alamos, New Mexico, in 1983, where in the background you can hear Ronald Reagan give speeches about God that are belied by the demonic story, perhaps suggesting a disconnect between his rhetoric and the realities of the Reagan era, but no social or political theme ever fully forms. Owen lives in an apartment complex with his mother (Cara Buono), who is divorcing his father. He is bullied at school, but finds comfort in the girl who just moved in next door with an older man (Richard Jenkins) whom everyone assumes is her father.

The girl is a vampire. The older man kills and drains blood from his victims to feed her. There are some scenes from the helper’s point of view — including a car accident excellently filmed from the back seat — but the film otherwise keeps its focus on Abby and Owen, taking a child’s-eye view of the isolated, fearsome events of their lives.

Moretz is a star in the making, and at first she seemed ideally suited to the role of Abby, but now I think she’s a shade too self-possessed for the character. She gives a good performance of loneliness and longing, but I was always aware of her performing, self-conscious — or maybe I’m too accustomed to seeing her in mature-for-her-age roles, not the least of which as Hit Girl in Kick-Ass. Smit-McPhee is more natural in his role. He has a sad, faraway look, is haunting, unaffected, and contributes a great deal to the film’s moody effect. He previously showed promise in The Road opposite Viggo Mortensen, and I think this performance shows improvement. There is a scene of extreme violence after which we see the faintest trace of a smile on his face. Childhood can be frightening. Sometimes, so can the children.