A Comparison of Let the Right One In (2009) & Let Me In (2010)
Let Me In (2010) dir. Matt Reeves
Tomatometer 89%; Audience 74% with 61,729 responses.
Year: 2010 -- Director: Matt Reeves -- Cast: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Chloë Grace Moretz, Richard Jenkins, Elias Koteas, Ritchie Coster, Dylan Minnette
Length: 116 min. Color/Stereo -- est. Budget $20,000,000; est. Boxoffice $24,145,613 (Worldwide)
When Matt Reeves was hired to direct an English language adaptation of Let the Right One In
, his studio (Hammer Films) acquired the rights to both Lindqvist's novel and the screenplay that he wrote, and that had so recently been produced by Tomas Alfredson. It's right in the credits. So, where the two films are much the same, especially in the final two or three scenes, that is the explanation. Reeves wasn't stealing anything, Hammer had purchased both the screenplay and the novel for him to work with. It seems he took what worked for his purposes best, from both.
His film is not a carbon copy of Alfredson's 2008 (2009 USA) release. But I cannot figure out how his film can have the same running time of the Swedish film and leave out a full 25% more of the plot. It doesn't seem any slower-paced than Alfredson's version.
Kody Smit-McPhee acquits himself well. He's a charming young man, but the character he plays is too malleable, too much at loose ends. I think this film would have been better with Chlöe Moretz and Kåre Hedebrant playing Abby and Oskar. Now, that would have been a pairing! Moretz's manipulative Abby dealing with Hedebrant's increasingly self-assured Oskar would have been fun to watch. But we have what we have. And we also have our imaginations.
Some of the characters who figured strongly in the novel, such as the policeman who is Tommy's step-father to be, are recast in this movie. Here, there is a police detective who is on the spoor of a murderer, in this case The Father (the character's name, a replacement for Håkan in the novel and Swedish film). He takes the place of Lacke in the final scene up in Abby's apartment.
I like this film. I really do, but I can't help but compare it to Alfredson's adaptation, and Let Me In
comes up short in too many parameters. Only very slightly short, but still it doesn't stretch itself quite enough. It's like a player trying to slam dunk the basketball, so to speak. The ball is up on the rim, circles it with fury, and then tumbles off without scoring. Why? because the player tried to be safe
, and intended to score the two points. The player was on the control side of "edge of control," rather than just letting go, not thinking about scoring per se
, and busting a gut to "get there." For people who appreciate effort above all else, that's enough. For those who want to see a score, it falls short. That's the kind of film Let Me In
is, ultimately. The intention is to score, not to "get there." As a result, it doesn't accomplish either. Still, it fails gently, and in a most entertaining way.
Here are some aspects of the film that I like, and some that I don't care for. You'll find that in some entries I both give and take away:
: Chlöe Moretz is a definite plus. Her performance is different from that of Lina Leandersson. She never seems confused very much. She comes across as more manipulative, although she isn't, in fact. She also appears more devious, speaking in riddles to Owen on several occasions. She takes advantage of the fact that the boy can be easily confused, and swayed. She knows that he is falling in love with her, and she takes advantage of this; and even though she appears to have fallen for the boy, that could also be subterfuge. I like the character of Eli better, but Moretz plays what she is given with superb assuredness. There is not one moment of remorse on Abby's part.
: The set design and photography are very nice, although there is too much color grading (American director). This is an attempt to set the mood. Alfredson's film sets the mood just fine, without attenuating colors during post-production into some pre-designed palette. At least in the case of Let Me In
they don't play with it so much that it's constantly
in your face. You only notice it when it's really intense or out of character for the scene. That doesn't happen as often as it could have. But it happens often enough. Notice that this entry started out as something I like, and with some effort on my part, it remained in that category. Except I began to notice as I selected stills for this review: orange & teal, orange & teal.
: Let Me In
isn't the textbook example of a Hollywood movie. But it comes close enough that it devalues what it attempts to do. I like the fact that Reeves tries
to make something that isn't to formula, doesn't hit all the right "beats" and doesn't draw the acceptable, everything-is-explained-for-you characters standard to the genre. I like that he tries
to do this, but I am sad that he doesn't get it done. It's as if he wanted to Alfredson
the film, and just couldn't resist the temptation to bigify it and smooth out all questions. American audiences don't like to leave the theater with questions. All must be explained. But, you can tell he tried to do that. Remember, this is the director who barely showed us the creature in Cloverfield
. A masterstroke, except he seems to have forgotten how to keep human scale, here. When in a project that is human scale, he seems to lose his ability to not enormify the moments for the sake of "boo!" effects. Reeves tries
not to jump out from behind the fridge and go "Bugga-bugga!" in a loud voice, but he just can't hold himself back.
: Owen is a slightly dirtier player than Oskar. He is shown taking money from his mother's purse, and doing other things that aren't good-boy. Oskar is like that in the novel: he shoplifts, lies, and so forth. The film Oskar is a cleaner kid, and he comes across more as a wimp in Alfredson's film than he does in the original book. Still, as I write below, Oskar is not Eli's victim. As a wimp with an attitude, he goes on the ride on purpose. Eli isn't the only person in his life, which is more or less the opposite of the way Reeves sets Owen up. Owen basically has no one. Except Abby.
: Okay, perhaps when Abby says, "I'm not a girl" she doesn't mean the obvious (for this film) "I'm a vampire." Maybe she means she used to be a boy named Abner. But that isn't likely. Lindqvist/Alfredson tried to include the Eli/Elias idea in their film but didn't give it enough screen time, and offered no explanatory lines. It plays better, although it isn't as "accurate" to the book, when Reeves leaves out that question altogether, and just lets "I'm not a girl" mean "I'm a vampire." For once the Hollywood "explain it" thing works to the advantage of this film over its source film. But that's just one little thing out of the whole 116 minutes.
: Matt Reeves is allowed to have a different emphasis from Tomas Alfredson, of course. But his film steers too far into the gruesome aspects of the story. Whereas Alfredson kept much of the most gruesome scenes in long shot, Reeves has to shove the bloody junk right into our faces. Yet, because he does this, especially in the climax at the bathhouse, he takes all the edge off it. American directors with their big CGI budgets seem to have forgotten to place the technical possibilities in service to the story...only to the story. And they just play around with it. I probably would, too, if I had that kind of budget to play around with. I would also fool myself that it was all being done in service to the story. Someone outside the crew needs to stand ready to point out that you're just jerking off with that. Put your device back in its case and zip it shut!
: There is never such a person around as I described above, and there wasn't on Reeves' crew, either.
: Where to begin with this one? Hyper-isolation is used too intensely. The gang that meets at the Sun Palace restaurant is a fixture of the novel, and those characters are retained in Lindqvist's screen treatment of the story. The purpose of the gang of drunks is to show that there is a community into which Eli and Håkan have walked. People know one another around here. This little gang functions more in the form of connective tissue for the novel than for the Swedish film. Reeves dumps all that. Whereas Oskar has friends, Owen has none. Owen spends all his time alone, or with his new buddy Abby. Those who speak to him at all are his tormentors. Plus, even though Virginia and Luke have some kind of affair going on, they are not part of a group like the one that supports Virginia and Lacke in the Swedish version. Given that Americans feel isolated in 21st Century culture, when the film was made, we didn't feel quite so isolated in the 1980s when this tale is set. So it seems inauthentic historically.
But this isolation is projected for a dramatic purpose: Owen turns to Abby because he has no one else. I've read the book and seen the Alfredson film, and I believe that Oskar's predicament is dramatically stronger. Taking away all connection to a community for Owen just leaves him like a pasteboard cutout. When he leaves with Abby, he's really leaving nothing behind because he had nothing. Oskar leaves a home, albeit a strained and uncomfortable one. The sole indication that Owen has not always been hermetically sealed off from those around him is the mention he makes of Tommy (an important character from the novel, who is absent from Alfredson's film and this one) who used to invite the younger boy to play ping pong in Tommy's secret basement storeroom, a place that Owen still visits even though Tommy has moved away.
: Owen in this story becomes Abby's victim. We Americans love to see ourselves as victims, and poor little Owen, who has nobody, falls into step with this vampire. And then leaves home with her. In a sense, Owen hits the jackpot, wins the lottery, because his new I'm-not-a girlfriend has lots of money. Whee! He'll never have to work, only string up a few unsuspecting people now and again to help the permanent 12-year-old feed her habit. At least that's what the end feels like. American directors have a devil of a time with the irony of situations. I think it's because Americans won't go see anything that doesn't feed their need to be a victim of someone else. "Responsibility for my own choices? Why would I want to claim that!?" No, if Owen wasn't Abby's dupe, then he would have chosen
to become a murderer! He has to be seduced into it. The victim of it. Yeah, that's right. I'll allow that I might be exaggerating this point, given that Owen is shown committing questionable acts on his own (although he never steals any candy the way Oskar does in the novel).
: Owen buys all his candy and things in the film, whereas Oskar often shoplifts in the novel. The written character of Oskar seems a bit more likely to make the choice that the film Oskar makes, than the streamlined film version does. But Owen steals money from his mother to buy the candy with, at least.
: Virginia isn't a character, she's simply a topiary plant that turns up at some point in the story and then suffers from fatal fertilizer overdose. I think she could have been left out. How many scenes is she in, anyway? Two? But they needed a body on fire scene for the Hollywood film. The Swedish film uses the same scene as a suicide with a remorseful purpose. In fact, a difference in this film from its predecessor is that neither vampire character regrets anything. Both Eli and Virginia do in Let the Right One In
, and the original film is stronger for their remorse.
: The people who designed the vampire feeding scenes for this film seem to have vampires and zombies confused. Then, again, maybe American audiences do, too. Traditionally, vampires lap up the blood that escapes from a wound. They do not tear off flesh steaks and chow down on them.
: Reeves admits in one of the featurettes that he purposely kept the mother a formless, mostly-absent character to emphasize the lack of connection that Owen has with everybody. Okay, Reeves. So that was your intention, but you kind of gutted your little film by taking that approach. Weakened it. But then, you did pump up the gore. I guess that makes up for it. Anyway, good try, it's just that Lindqvist had a surer hand with what is important in his story. Reeves feeds us the American faux explanation that the boy could never have gone over to the side of the vampire if he had only had some connection to his surroundings. Owen wants only to leave. Oskar wants to be a part of things, but keeps getting pushed away. Owen is unable to connect, so he's ripe for conversion to the dark side.
: At the end of the movie I should feel like the bullies got what they deserved, right? Alfredson makes me feel that way. Reeves doesn't.
: Well, actually this is a strong clue that Reeves is only playing with his toys. At the end of the film when the cliche fade to back would be so very appropriate to allow us to frown in the disturbing darkness of it all, Reeves fades to white. As if to wash away everything we've seen. To cleanse us of all bad feelings before we go out into the real world once again.
Let Me In
is a very well-made film, quite enjoyable for what it is. But it lacks a certain something that Tomas Alfredson's version has. Or perhaps it has a Hollywood touch that it would be better not having. At any rate, it isn't a waste of time to watch, but if you have only 115 minutes, and you don't mind reading subtitles, see the Swedish film. If you have 230 minutes, watch them both. Let Me In
is an exercise in trying to make the nonsensical make sense. Reeves wants you to leave the theater with no questions. Plot points are neatly tied up for the most part. When you finish watching, it's over. Let the Right One In
will engage your imagination for hours or days afterward (at least it did mine). The original film draws you into itself. Makes you a part of the horror. Let Me In
allows you to watch through the filter of the movie screen, but when the projector light goes out the horror is over, and you're done. That's it. All over. You might be wondering about the technical points of the film, but you won't be daydreaming about the relationships that you have just seen unfold. All has been told to you already. Very carefully, very completely. You've even seen a strip of portraits from a photobooth that tell you exactly what Owen's future is to be like. You've been outside the show for the entire time.
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