Sunday, December 12, 2010

Let Me In

Youthful Supernatural Lovers

When Hollywood runs out of ideas, it turns to what's hot in world cinema, and picks up a film or two to adapt from and/or be remade. It could be a Martin Scorsese film based upon a Hong Kong crime action thriller, or of late, Swedish cinema being the hunting ground of choice with David Fincher's upcoming and much hyped about adaptation of Stieg Larsson's The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, and here, Matt Reeves translating one of the more inventive and evocative vampire films in recent history with Tomas Alfredson film based on John Ajvide Lindqvist's novel Let The Right One In, an almost shot for shot, scene for scene remake that makes you wonder why the effort to go through this adaptation process when a recent original already exists, and one that made it to the cinema halls in Singapore as well.

Granted, Hollywood does come knocking with a larger budget to begin with, but here it managed to avoid the risk of attempting something totally flashy but useless for the story, I felt Reeves had remained on the side of caution in not wanting to branch off too much from what's already established and canon, and like Gus Van Sant in his remake of Hitchcock's Psycho, preferred to have recreated scenes as they are with no major departures or surprises, which to any audience already familiar with the Swedish version, may not find anything narratively more that Reeves' film has to offer. As it turned out Let Me In still had a longer runtime, but captured and retained all essence of the earlier film, with some budget going toward recreating the 80s era it was set in, and heightening the usual creepy elements to brand this a horror film, with the requisite gory elements that somehow when unintentionally but hilariously (to me at least) overboard, when it came to discover the what if that explains its title when permission to enter a home is not granted.

Matt Reeves burst onto the scene with his found-footage film Cloverfield which featured some crazy handheld camera techniques and angles crucial to the narrative, and here trades all that to jump into the other end of the spectrum in opting for the still camera that's a staple in any art house cinema. Unlike the usual Hollywood bastardized version of films that contain plenty of verbatim explanation and incessant talk to idiot-proof it for anyone to follow what's going on, this film has significant moments of silence to ramp up its atmospherics, with so much being said through so little, that you may mistake this for being anything but churned out from Hollywood. Attention was paid to detail, especially in populating the art direction with 80s era motifs, and elements,

And for those who have seen the Swedish original, perhaps one of the prime reasons is to compare whether the leads of Kodi Smit-McPhee as Owen and Chloe Grace Moretz as Abby measure up to the original pair of Kare Hedebrant as Oskar and Lina Leandersson as Eli. It's needless to say this comparison will always exist, and personally I felt it was a mission accomplished as they both did a tremendous job in being equally on par without letting the weight of pressure eat into the performances. Their beautiful chemistry made the primary love story here believable, moving, and one which you will root for, nevermind the alarm bells ringing that it's something quite unnatural, and in some ways, the corruption of innocence. There are plenty of subtext still contained in the film from the way character relationships especially that between Abby and her “Father” (played by Richard Jenkins) and even the ambiguity of their sexual orientation but if there's a flaw in this remake, then it is here that it didn't measure up to the way the Swedish original had dangled and tackled this deviation from the novel.

Kodi Smit-McPhee was spot on in his interpretation of Owen/Oskar, being vulnerable when it calls for it, when he's bully fodder, or when the feeling of isolation just overwhelms from discovering the truth about his new squeeze and a mom who gradually finds solace from the bottle to numb the pain of an impending divorce, his false bravado in role play reversal of standing up against his physical and mental tormentors, and the child like innocence he fills the screen with when he plays Romeo to a Juliet that can never inhibit the same waking hours as him. Chloe Moretz saw her stock rise with her profanity-spewing Hit Girl in Kick-Ass, and here she's in a totally muted role as the 12 year old, more of less, young girl who's more than meets the eye. Moretz brought out her apprehension of being discovered and found out, her helplessness at the sight of plasma, and the start of yet another budding romance, although she was quite unmistakably replaced by a CG equivalent for her character's most violent action scenes, an effect that drew unnecessary attention to itself, whether be it scaling walls, or pouncing on the pack of her prey and making a rag doll out of them.

To someone who has seen the Hollywood version first, you may be in awe with Matt Reeves' film, and may embrace his vision of the story. But take heed that the Swedish one came first, and you'll do yourself a favour by checking that out as well, since it's already available on DVD. For those who swear by Let The Right One In, I'd still encourage you to watch this for the actors' performances, as they step into roles that you hold dear to and are familiar with, showing that a strong story is essentially necessary, followed by a solid casting to bring the characters to life, no matter how many remakes (though it may be pointless after this effort) come by in future. Recommended!

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