Aaaah Vampires. Pop culture loves em! Between Twilight and True Blood, hip sexy vampires are in. Which is why I’m amazed that director Matt Reeves got a wide release for this film. Vampires in this universe are not hip or sexy. They are vampires in the most traditional sense, as in no sunlight, requires human blood to live, and the vampire “fact” that they cannot enter somebody’s home unless they are given permission to enter. What is more amazing is that the core of this film is not a horror fright fest meant for teenagers to laugh and giggle at late at night. It’s a coming of age story, a love story, and a vampire story wrapped together, carried by the absurdly strong performances of real life children Kodi Smit-Mcphee and Chloe Moretz, who are 14 and 13 respectively. If this film is any indication, we have two actors who are going to be A-list material before they’re even able to drive.
A quick note: This film is a remake (and a pretty faithful one at that) of the Swedish film “Let the Right one In”. I’m not going to debate the merits of one vs the other in this article, but know that this is not an original story and is influenced very heavily by another film.
The plot revolves around Owen (Smit-McPhee) a frightened and sad 12-year-old boy. He is both of those things due to a number of factors, but mainly because his parents have just been divorced leaving him to live with his alcoholic mother and barely ever see his absent father. If that wasn’t enough, his small stature and pale skin make him the target of a vicious bully at school and two his cohorts, who are both bigger and older than Owen and who take a perverse delight in making his life as difficult as possible. Owen has a penchant for sitting outside on the snow-covered playground at his apartment complex at night, which introduces him to Abby, a young girl who just moved in to the complex with her father.
As we’re introduced to Abby wearing no shoes in the freezing cold and shown that her apartment windows are covered up with cardboard from the inside, we as the audience are very quickly keyed in to her being a vampire. Owen isn’t. The first thing Abby says upon meeting him is “I can’t be your friend.”
It is this relationship between Owen and Abby that forms the backbone of the entire film. For a good chunk of the time Abby being a vampire almost seems somewhat pushed to the side, as Owen tries to come to term with his feelings for Abby as a friend and as a girl. We see that Owen does possess some measure of strength in his refusal to just accept that Abby can’t be his friend. I found myself considering the effect of location on one’s personality. Had Owen met Abby at school, he would have been probably terrified to even talk to her and would have fled the minute she told him they couldn’t be friends. At his most comfortable though, in the dark and freezing night, he is much more curious and forceful, not accepting of being ordered around. That being his most comfortable setting is something that was not lost on Abby.
Speaking of Abby, the glimpses in to her “life” are fascinating. As she tells Owen that she is “twelve, more or less” it becomes apparent that being eternally a child who needs to drink blood would create a myriad of challenges. Her father, played by Richard Jenkins (the dad from Six Feet Under) will go to great lengths to help Abby, lethal ones that draw the attention of a local cop, played by Elias Koteas. Interestingly, neither Jenkins or Koteas have names given to their characters, nor does Owen’s mostly absent mom. I got a very Peanuts vibe in the sense that in this story, the adults really don’t matter. They are there and they have their roles to play, but all the focus and the drama is on the children.
Given the whole “vampire movie” selling point, there is actually very little action in the film. However this makes what little there is captivating. Every single moment is earned, particularly the ending. None of it feels forced or just a “well, the movies been pretty slow for a bit, lets throw in some vampire stuff”. The drama elements of the film outweigh the horror elements by a pretty wide margin. That this works well is a real testament to Smit-McPhee and Moretz. Kids doing drama is usually not a great idea, but these two nail it. Smit-McPhee makes the vulnerable Owen very sympathetic without resorting to over acting or total freak outs, which would be the cliché way to make kids show emotion. A key decision he makes at the end of the film is earned (much like the action) by the emotional arc his character goes through. Credit for that believability goes to director Matt Reeves and Smit-McPhee.
Moretz has the more difficult role here and she performs insanely well. This is not Hit Girl 2.0 (her other major work, Kick-Ass). She has the task of playing a child and a vampire at the same time, and she rises to the occasion on both. Her emotional arc is no less poignant than Owen’s and is equally as believable. Moretz gets a huge amount of credit for that of course, but Matt Reeves again shows that he knew what he was doing in both the casting choices and his direction.
The film itself is very dreary, both in setting in tone. Set in New Mexico in 1983, everything is cold steel and hard angles, with snow and ice covering almost everything. Even in daytime everything seems a bit overcast and muted. Small touches, such as the wallpaper depicting Earth as seen from the moon that decorates Owen’s room, or Abby’s puzzle collection amidst the otherwise disorganized apartment she shares with her father, are some of the only color the film really shows (well and BLOOD of course. Vampire movie!)
As I said before, this must have been a hard sell to get made. Off the beaten path movies are getting harder to come by, but Let Me in is part of a resurgence (Inception anyone) of good films that are not sequels or just genre clichés. Sadly, Let Me In has not been performing well at the box office, which is a shame. Reeves has put together one of the most genuine depictions of how children build relationships I’ve ever seen in a film and wrapped it in a compelling and genuinely creepy vampire story. Strange idea? Sure. But he makes it well worth watching. The box office probably won’t show it, but this is one of the better films of the year.
SPOILERS BE HERE DO NOT READ, ENDING DISCUSSION!!!!!
So the most fascinating part of this movie for me was something I couldn’t even really mention at all in the actual review, so stop now if you want to avoid spoilers. I refer to Richard Jenkins character as Abby’s father, but of course he wasn’t really. The dynamic of Abby potentially picking kids like Owen (and as the pictures Owen finds reveals, Jenkins when he was a similar age) to be her care taker, potentially doing this for thousands of years, is pretty fascinating. Do you think Abby picked Owen from first meeting him, knowing that Jenkins was losing it? Or was it she really just wanted to try making a friend and just fell into him almost by accident? We get glimpses of Abby’s more evil side, and I don’t even mean her killing people, that’s really just part of being a vampire. But her freaking out and yelling at Jenkins as he screws up shows a side of her she NEVER reveals to Owen. I think it was a combination of all of the above. I think at first she just wanted a friend, then purposefully tried to get closer to Owen as she saw Jenkins faltering. However, I think she got too close to him and actually said “I’m not going to screw up his life by making him mine, I’m just going to leave”, and gets in that cab. However, I think she probably realized that she wasn’t going to get much of anywhere by herself and went back to get Owen, feeling bad about it but realizing she needed him. She was conflicted, but she did it to stay alive at the end. Discuss in comments of course, but PLEASE put spoiler tags if you do.
Filed under: Movies | Tagged: 1983, box office, catharsis, Chloe Moretz, coming of age, Elias Koteas, Elrood, Hit Girl, Inception, Kick Ass, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Let Me in, Let the right one in, Matt Reeves, peanuts, Richard Jenkins, snoopy, true blood, twilight, vampire |