Vampires are real. There are millions of them out there. They might drink a little blood, but they’re also quite fond of milkshakes and french fries. They don’t usually haunt the local cemeteries at midnight because they often have curfews. They don’t spend their days lying helpless in coffins deep in hypnotic slumber. They save those hypnotic states for uncomfortable desks. You can’t scare these creatures with garlic or a crucifix. They’re far more frightened of homework and detention. Yes, vampires are quite real and yes, there are millions of them out there. Just visit any junior high school campus, and you’ll find them there not so cleverly mingling with the student body. At every one of these schools there are girls with bite marks on their necks. They consider them a sign of eternal love, but they are far more likely to lead to hepatitis than immortality. For millions of teens across America, vampires are more than real. They’re cool.
As I’ve said many times on these pages, the vampire fad isn’t new at all. It’s been around for over a hundred years. The Twilight series of books has made the genre sexy and accessible to angst-filled teenage girls and a few boys. The same phenomenon has spread all over the world. In Sweden it came in the form of John Ajvidelindqvist’s novel Let The Right One In. Like the Twilight books, the novel became must reading for teens across Europe. And also like Twilight, it was made into a movie that enjoyed incredible success throughout the world. It should come as absolutely no surprise at all that the American filmmakers should want to take a crack at the material. Not only would the film be made in English for the American moviegoers, but it would be the perfect film to launch the rebirth of another horror and vampire staple … Hammer Films.
Like the vampires, mummies and werewolves the studio brought us throughout the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s, Hammer has risen from the grave. A group of investors have resurrected the film brand and intend to honor the tradition of the once-defunct horror giant. President Simon Oakes is a self-proclaimed fan since he was a kid. He has no interest in trying to fit Hammer into the new mold of torture porn or slashers. He acknowledges that there is plenty of room for those kinds of films in the horror genre. He hopes to bring back more than just the Hammer name. He intends to bring back the gothic spirit that was Hammer Films. Let Me In appears to be a sincere effort in that direction.
Owen (Smit-McPhee) is a very lonely young boy. He is bullied at school, and his mother (Buono) doesn’t appear to have much time for him. His father has left them and exists only as an occasional distant voice on the phone. He endures incredible torture by the much larger boys at his school. There is genuine brutality here that has caused the 12-year old to become isolated and alienated from the world. He lives what little life remains through his bedroom window, and that’s where he first spies Abby (Moretz). She has just moved into the apartment next to his with her “father” (Jenkins). At first he merely watches her with fascination as she sits alone during the night in the building’s courtyard. Eventually he musters the courage to go out and meet her. She is aloof and instantly warns that she can never be his friend. But Owen is persistent without being pushy. He merely sits nearby and allows her to get used to him. Eventually the two do begin to relate and become friends. But Abby is hiding a terrible secret. Her “father” is not a parent at all, but rather a slave who provides her with human blood each night to satisfy her needs. Of course, Abby is a vampire. Owen’s attraction to Abby grows. He’s finally found someone or something he can relate to honestly. Even when he finds out the truth, he remains drawn to the ancient little girl. He becomes protective as their relationship grows.
I won’t be offering any comparisons between Let Me In and the Swedish Let The Right One In. I’ve heard enough about the original film to know that the essentials of the story remain virtually intact. I considered seeking out a copy of the original but opted against it for fear that it would taint my experience with the new version. It’s unavoidable. If I had watched the previous movie I would be distracted by my attempts to make comparisons. I thought this movie deserved my undivided attention, and I’m pretty sure it was the correct call. I’m sure you’ll find other reviews that spend the space making just those comparisons. But does that really tell you what you want to know? I’d rather talk about what this movie is instead of what it isn’t. And what this movie is is something rather special.
The age of the characters has the effect of putting you a little off guard. Owen appears to suffer unimaginable agony that is viscerally so much worse because of his age. Kodi Smit-McPhee is a subtle performer. He doesn’t display his torment through any external means. He merely wears emptiness about as well as I’ve ever seen on screen. He underperforms, which draws you into the character, easily forgetting the actor who is merely playing a part. We all know how good Chloe Moretz can be. She shines in Kick Ass. Here she might be a tad too bubbly at times. Again, she blends into the part nearly as well, but she can’t always hide the rather bright personality she so obviously contains. The result is that she gives into Owen’s charms a bit too quickly. The relationship feels a tad rushed. She’s still one hell of a performer, and when she’s on here, she’s really on. Richard Jenkins has been around for forever. I loved him as the ever-present deceased father in HBO’s wonderfully twisted 6 Feet Under. Here he wears the burden of what he must do to protect and feed this girl like a permanent mask. He doesn’t have as huge a part as it actually feels like he has. He’s not on screen long, and he’s pretty much without dialog. We still instantly recognize his love for the girl but his horror at what he has become.
The film is directed by Cloverfield’s Matt Reeves. Give the man a great deal of credit here. These are such different movies that they are like night and day. Reeves shows great versatility here. It’s obvious that he has a lot of respect for the original material. He works hard at atmosphere here, and most of the time he appears to understand that less is very often more. He’s patient enough to allow the film to sit silently as these two children slowly develop their relationship. It’s not common for a horror film to be this quiet, and Cloverfield was anything but still. He allows his script to play out at its own pace, and the reward is an emotional film that defies the traditional genre trappings. Where Reeves goes astray is when he forgets those elements. The score intrudes too often and demands attention when our focus should be on these characters. Then there are the computer-generated attack scenes. These things are so obviously computer-generated that you are extracted quickly and brutally from the mood he worked so hard to create. Honestly, I found them completely comical and so unnecessary. Why is it so important to depict these acts of violence at all, let alone deliver them in such an artificial aspect? In the true tradition of Hammer, these attacks would have been quite effective as shadows occurring just at the outside limits of our vision. Reeves had created such a convincing atmosphere and mood that our imaginations were primed to fill in what he might only tease at seeing. It’s not like Reeves doesn’t understand that concept. Cloverfield is loaded with scenes that offer mere glimpses of the monster in ways that tease our imagination and invite us to fill in the blanks. He should have brought that philosophy to Let Me In. There are some moments of truly unique cinematography. There are two instances where you’re brought inside vehicles. The camera is at the back with a long shot to the front. It’s quite interesting. One of these occurs during a car rollover. It’s disorienting, to say the least. But isn’t that what a moment like that ought to be?
These flaws aside, Let Me In remains an effective film overall. I can’t really call it original, because I know it’s a remake. But it will feel original, at least to anyone who has not watched the original. If you’re a horror fan or a vampire enthusiast, I invite you to let this film into your collection. I can promise an experience that will stay with you a very long time. This one has all of the markings of a classic. Remake or no, it’s a rather brilliant film at times.
Let Me In is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.40:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC MPEG-4 codec at an average 30 mbps. This isn’t going to be the kind of high-definition image presentation you’re going to rely on to show off your gear. Color is extremely muted. There is a very odd yellow pall that dominates the color scheme and takes away any chance that the colors will pop. It is an atmospheric piece, but I found it to be rather overtly stylish at times. Detail is inconsistent. There are moments of incredible vivid detail. The acid face Jenkins wears at certain points in the film is incredibly textured and detailed. There are many shots that appear just slightly out of focus. It’s an obviously intended result that just doesn’t play quite as well as it was likely hoped. Black levels are fair. The film does have some welcome grain that gives the movie a somewhat retro filmatic look that I did enjoy.
The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 is somewhat better. I really didn’t like the harshness of the film in its audio presentation. The shrill that Abby makes really doesn’t fit. As I mentioned earlier there are some overpowering score moments that jar you out of the otherwise quiet nature of the film. Dialog is soft, but you can hear it well enough. There are some wonderful moments where the surrounds really work to immerse you in the film. The car crash scene is perfectly designed to pull you into the moment.
There is an Audio Commentary by director Reeves. He’s best when he gives us background that isn’t immediately evident on the screen but makes what we see a bit easier to understand. He gets carried away with religious and political themes that detract from the whole. But it’s more informative than most of these tracks.
The extras are presented in a quasi-high bitrate MPEG-2 format.
From The Inside – A Look At The Making Of Let Me In: (17:04) Typical cast and crew sound bites. The kids are quite interesting to listen to. Chloe is very animated as usual, while Kodi is extremely shy.
The Art Of Special Effects: (6:29) See several layer passes of an f/x scene.
Car Crash Sequence – Step By Step: (5:34) Go inside that rollover I talked about.
Dissecting Let Me In: This is a viewing mode that brings up informative tidbits throughout the film.
Deleted Scenes: There are 3 with a play-all option.
I will likely track a copy of that film down at some point in the future. My curiosity has been adequately whetted. This film stands on its own as a welcome breath of fresh air, at least for American audiences. If nothing else you might want to see what the new Hammer Films is up to now. It’s a strong start. Let Me In has set the bar high for the directors and performers who follow. Congrats to the new Hammer Films. “You have to say it.”