I scarcely remember grinning as much during a film as I did while watching “Let Me In.” Grinning during a horror movie, you ask? Allow me to explain. It was an all-encompassing smile of pleasure, joy, satisfaction, surprise, and a little bit of awe at how carefully and reverently this film was adapted by American director Matt Reeves in homage to its Tomas Alfredson’s Swedish original, “Let the Right One In.” This gratifying experience could be compared to listening to a faithful and moving interpretation of a favorite symphony or an innovative cover of a cherished song: all of the basic foundations that made the original remarkable are still there, but with subtle and sometimes inspired variations. Needless to say, I could not wipe the stupid smile off my face.
The story centers on Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee), a boy whose diminutive, scrawny frame and uncannily pallid complexion make him an easy target for bullies at school, one of whom is especially brutal. Only Abby (Chloe Moretz), his new young neighbor whom he bonds with over a rubix cube, is aware of Owen’s plight and offers to help him. While Abby and Owen become increasingly intimate, his mother is oblivious to the physical wounds Owen suffers from his tormentors, while his father is reduced to a detached voice on the phone. This impending separation between the realms of childhood and adulthood is made painfully clear when Owen calls his father on the phone. Owen’s genuine fear and confusion over the possibility that Abby may indeed be “evil” eludes his father, who turns the conversation into another reason to vent his anger towards Owen’s mother. It is a devastation but liberating moment for Owen as he realizes he is on his own—that is, unless he has the mettle to “let the right one in”—even if “the right one” can’t share his sweet tooth and has been “twelve for a very long time.”
As with any remake, especially an American remake of a foreign film, there are moments of what I would call “American exposition”—when certain plot points or emotions are made blatantly clear instead of subtly implied. An example of “American exposition” occurs during one of the film’s most jarring but tender scenes. Owen, apprehensive about Abby’s “evil” intentions after discovering she is a vampire, refuses to invite her into his home. In spite Abby’s supernatural abilities and strength, Owen realizes he is the dominant in this situation and flaunts his power, taunting her with clicking sounds as if she’s an animal, mocking her inability to act for herself without his permission. Finally, Abby passes through the doorway, uninvited. After a tense moment, Abby begins to quietly tremble as blood purs from her eyes, mouth, even her heart. Owen, frightened and disgusted by his own brand of bullying, embraces her and invites her in. In the American version, Abby tells Owen that she knew he wouldn’t let her die; in the Swedish version, Eli says no such thing—her absolute trust in him is implied by her perilous crossing of the threshold. It is a slight and perhaps even inconsequential variation from the original, but it would be reassuring to think that American audiences would grasp the emotional bond between these two companions without such a deliberate verbal cue. Nevertheless, this and other instances of “American exposition” do not lessen the film’s loyalty to the original nor does it diminish the emotional intricacies that exist between Abby and Owen.
“Let Me In” is a coming of age story about a child’s loss of innocence in realizing that parents and grownups offer little if no protection or guidance; an adolescent vampire story that is mercifully free of the sexual charge and baroque love triangles of the “Twilight” saga. “Let Me In” instead thrives on the unique bond as it forms between two young friends, each with the power to help the other. Ever faithful to Alfredson’s original vision, Reeve’s beautifully choreographed end sequence in a swimming pool encapsulates the film’s central paradox of innocent love and the ghastly violence committed in the name of that love. Before I start straying into the lyrics of a certain U2 song, I will say that in “Let Me In,” bloodshed for the sake of friendship never felt so right.