We've been worried about Let Me In, the US adaptation of the cult Swedish vampire movie. But we saw scenes from it this weekend, and the acting is incredible. Plus, it goes back to the original book for source material.
Directed by Matt Reeves, whose previous movie was Cloverfield, the movie channels the odd, uneasy tone of the Swedish film, Let The Right One In. But it has a flavor all its own, that brings in American cultural references in a way that feels natural and suited to the material. Like the book and Swedish movie, it's set in the 1980s. And Reeves chose to locate it in the snowy winter of Los Alamos, New Mexico. On the Let Me In panel at Comic-Con today, Reeves said that he wanted the movie to be set against the backdrop of Reagan's Cold War America, where "evil," and "fighting evil," were part of the national discourse.
We watched the trailer for the movie, which is frenetic and creepy, full of scenes that showcase how savage and beautiful Chloe Moretz (Hit Girl) can be. But honestly, the trailer felt somewhat rote: It said "frenetic horror movie about vampires," and didn't make me think the movie would be as unique and character-driven as the original. But all my anxieties were quelled by two lengthy scenes that Reeves shared.
One thing that's really different about the American Let Me In is that Reeves really foregrounded the idea that our picked-on hero, Owen (Kody Smit-McPhee, from The Road) and Abby the vampire are basically two kids falling in love. The Abby character, in both the novel and original film, is gender ambiguous (we aren't sure whether the character is male or female). But in Let Me In, it's clear Abby is female and that Owen is falling in love with her.
He showed a clip of Owen and Abby's "first date," at a video arcade. Moretz and Smit-McPhee's acting was simply incredible - their performances, plus the awkward, slow, creepy feeling in the scene felt more like an indie movie than a Hollywood production.
Owen plays Ms. Pac Man, while Abby watches him intensely. When he buys his favorite candy, she tries one, but then has to run outside the arcade and barf. After she barfs, Owen hugs her. It's warmer relationship than the one we saw in the Swedish film, but also their awkwardness feels more realistic than its Swedish predecessor too. They have a very elliptical conversation where Abby asks, "Would you still like me if I weren't a girl?" And we see Owen reacting with a kind of blank confusion. Then he finally says, "Yeah, why?" Abby replies, "Just wondering." Making their relationship so much more overtly one where they date does rob Owen and Abby of their profoundly creepy connection from the previous movie, but it also makes them feel more like American kids. So I would call it a win for localizing the story.
But the next scene we saw was what sold me on this movie. We saw an incredible moment where Abby's "father" - i.e., her now-aged boyfriend, who was once like Owen - makes his last blood run for her. Before he leaves, looking incredibly tired, Abby touches him in a way that seems very adult and romantic. She stares into his eyes and he says, in reference to Owen, "Please don't see that boy again." Then we watch him try to kidnap a high school kid by hiding in the back of his car. But it all goes wrong. The kid invites another guy into the car, then stops at a gas station. Abby's "father" tries to kill the other kid (to the tune of 80s hit "Heat of the Moment") and steal the car, but it goes off the road and he's left in the crushed car with the dead kid, at the bottom of a snowy hill, watching the other kids coming down toward the car. He's caught. And he makes a horrible choice, to kill himself with the acid that he was going to use to melt down his victim's body. He pours it over his already-bleeding head, and begins to scream in pain. It's a seriously horrifying, shocking, and intense scene.
If you were wondering whether the US version of Let Me In would get under your skin and make you feel creepy and emotionally engaged all at once, the answer (at least based on this footage) is absolutely yes. And I think Reeves has done a great job pulling new material from the original book, while also using his new setting to knit American references into this story of a proto-serial killer finding his bloodsucking true love. It felt like some kind of surreal version of the Columbine story, with a boy who is picked on by his peers and fantasizes about murder finally finding a person who will inspire him to commit the murders he's only dreamed of.
Later, Moretz told us that she and Reeves worked out a back story for Abby, to explain how she got to be the way she is:
So she started as a little girl who was just a normal little girl. Her family wasn't very wealthy, you know, they worked. Her uncle was more wealthy, but he was always a weird guy. He stayed in the darker house, which was creepier, and he had animal skins everywhere. You know, all the creepy stuff. What we came up with was that my uncle kind of turned me. He kind of snuck in and robbed me of my innocence and made me immortal.
And Reeves explained why he felt it was important to set the story in Reagan's Cold War America:
The big sort of mantra [at that time] was the "Evil Empire" and the idea that evil was something that was outside of us, that Americans were fundamentally good and that the evils were the Soviets or communism. And there was something about that idea that I thought was contextually very interesting for the movie, because obviously Kodi's character and Chloe's character are dealing with the evil within, or the darker impulses that we all have. So I thought, well, what would it mean to be a 12-year-old dealing with dark feelings because he's being bullied mercilessly and life is so difficult for him, and the president and community are saying, "Well, these are not acceptable feelings. They don't exist. That's other." And we start to think, "Well, is that me? Am I evil?" I just thought contextually that that idea was kind of interesting.
Let Me In comes out October 1.