Fans of “Let the Right One In” can relax. “Cloverfield” director Matt Reeves hasn’t ruined the elegant Swedish vampire story by remaking it. If anything, he’s made some improvements, including the addition of a tense action-horror sequence in the middle of the film. While all that is artful about “Let Me In” comes straight from the original, the Hollywood version commands respect for not dumbing things down, offering classy, “Sixth Sense”-style crossover potential as it lures both genre suckers and fresh blood, curious to see how a remake starring “Kick-Ass’ ” Hit Girl and that kid from “The Road” stacks up.
Relocated from an icy burb outside Stockholm to equally chilly Los Alamos, N.M., “Let Me In” poses an alternative to the overplayed coming-of-age genre, offering teenage misfit Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee) a chance to avoid growing up — which, in contrast to other vampire stories, doesn’t involve being bitten or becoming a vampire himself. Instead, John Ajvide Lindqvist’s novel — championed by many as a thinking man’s “Twilight” — suggests an arrangement in which a young girl, suspended forever at age 12, seeks devoted caretakers who accompany her as she moves from city to city, feeding on human blood.
The “Twilight” connection is further cemented by the fact that, for some reason, the passionate vampire (played here by Chloe Grace Moretz) refuses to pass on the curse to her lover, who grows older with each passing day, while remaining comfortably insulated from the adult world in her company. And sex? That’s out of the question, given not only the age of the boy involved, but also the vampire’s lack of sex organs (a detail revealed in startling detail in the original but wisely withheld here).
When Abby (Moretz) arrives in Los Alamos, she is accompanied by a sketchy-looking older gentleman (Richard Jenkins, in a role that was once tantalizingly linked to Philip Seymour Hoffman). To the casual observer, he might appear to be her father. To auds, he reads more like a child molester. In fact, he is her devoted yet chaste lover, tasked with protecting her secret, bringing her blood and tucking her safely into a light-proof bed each morning. But Jenkins’ character is starting to get sloppy. Maybe he wants to get caught, which means it would be time for Abby to let someone else in on her secret — someone like Owen, an outsider who’s picked on at school and is just beginning to show a capacity for homicidal rage. Smit-McPhee certainly looks the part — not of a killer, necessarily, but of someone picked on and pliable enough to be molded into one. Instead of collecting grim newspaper clippings, he lurks in his room and spies on the neighbors.
The greatest difference between Reeves’ film and helmer Tomas Alfredson’s original is in the casting. Abby’s equivalent in the original had a profound, old-soul look about her, allowing auds to sense the decades she’d been repeating this routine. Moretz (quickly becoming the indie world’s go-to teen actress, with precocious roles in “500 Days of Summer” and “Kick-Ass” landing her work on Martin Scorsese’s next pic) represents a different, more innocent spin on the character. When Abby describes herself as “12, more or less,” that seems accurate, and an old photo taken with another boy who looks her age suggests a series of similar past relationships.
These ideas were all presented quite gracefully in the original, which departed somewhat from Lindqvist’s book, in which her guardian was presented as a pedophile the young vampire had recruited. Reeves, who also wrote the script for “Let Me In,” seems to favor the more resonant notion of an endless cycle of tortured romance, one that takes its toll on Abby’s partners by demanding that they become serial killers. Perhaps the difference in titles is significant: Whereas the vampire girl finally met her soulmate (“the right one”) in the original, here, she is caught in a sad, endless cycle.
Otherwise, it’s the same movie: the same strange metal playground, the same school bullies, the same killer climax at the school pool (only the scene with the cats is missing). The tone feels slightly less self-consciously arty, and some subtle touches have been added to make things clearer, but overall, with everyone from d.p. Greig Fraser to composer Michael Giacchino offering same-but-different contributions, “Let Me In” is so similar as to leave some wondering, “Why bother?”
Reeves’ remake seems to exist solely on the assumption that a large, subtitle-averse aud somehow wasn’t served by Alfredson’s original (the R rating seems a bigger obstacle, though this new version subtracts only the disconcerting full-frontal shot). Certainly the Swedish film, which ranks among the strongest horror entries of the last decade, deserved to find a wider base in the U.S., though in a game of “let the right version win,” back-from-the-grave horror shingle Hammer Films is clearly gambling they’ve got the goods.