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Vampires—they’re just like us. Almost any stereotype you can imagine as a human is now available in vampire form. They are still bloodthirsty of course, but the past few years have seen vampires who are less evil and more eminently human: caring, insecure, needy, and sometimes just selfish. Regardless of type, vampires generally seem to inhabit those places where baser feelings triumph, and so the school playground seems a natural place for them to make their next appearance.
The schoolyard in question in “Let Me In,” directed by Matt Reeves and based on the 2008 Swedish film “Let the Right One In,” is the site of torment for skinny and sensitive Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee), the victim of bullies who call him “little girl” and give him wedgies. His home life isn’t much better, but it is in front of his apartment that he meets a new neighbor named Abby (Chloe Moretz) who encourages Owen’s dreams of revenge, and turns out to be bloodthirsty in her own right.
Ultimately, there is no single aspect of “Let Me In,” that goes horribly wrong. The film is too faithful to the original to steer far off course. Rather, it seems like a cartoon version of something real, adding an extra helping of blood and pretty Hollywood actresses to what might be the quietest vampire movie ever made.
“Let Me In,” tries hard to make its American viewers feel at home. It does so in the same way one might imagine future generations would decorate an American-themed amusement park. Ronald Reagan is on TV, and Owen really likes Now and Laters. Occasionally, Owen turns on some music from the 1980s, interrupting the gloomy horror-movie soundtrack because—despite the fact that most of the film takes place in an anonymous apartment complex in an unnamed city where it is always snowing—the director wants the viewer to know that this is an American movie.
However, lest viewers confuse the two movies in their mind and mistakenly think that one is merely a dubbed version of the other, it is important to point out some crucial differences. First, and most importantly, fewer people in “Let Me In” are blond, including the protagonist. Second, some of the lines have been changed in translation, though most of these lines correspond to the addition of Now and Laters to the plotline.
Owen’s sweettooth is symptomatic of a general cleaning-up of some of the more disturbing aspects of the original. There is more blood and violent vampire gorging in “Let Me In,” but blood and gore has never bothered Americans. What was really scary about the original was that the film hinted that the little girl may not be a girl at all, whereas in “Let Me In,” she may not be human, but she is more explicitly female.
“Let Me In” is much more concerned with notions of morality than gender ambiguity. When a police officer gets a hold of Abby’s accomplice/father figure (Richard Jenkins,) he is not interested in his or Abby’s gender. Rather, one of his first questions is, “Are you a Satanist?” The religion theme is heavily emphasized through Owen’s mother (Cara Buono) who is deeply concerned with keeping evil away, and litters the house with religious icons.
In shifting the focus of the movie away from the ambiguity present in a relationship between two children—neither of whom truly know what to become or what they are capable of—and towards a larger societal comment on good an evil, “Let Me In” loses some of the quiet magic that infiltrated the original.
The remake is not without its beautiful moments, however, many of which are faithfully transposed from the original. Reeves is skillful at creating sympathy for those who live off blood without ever making them seem fully human. A scene in which Abby’s accomplice is hastily trying to drain the blood from a victim, when the arrival of cops disrupts him, manages to highlight his own pathetic helplessness. It is in moments like these in which the “villains” start to seem a little more like us.
Moments like these—not the brown hair or American actors or the Ms. Pac-Man references—will make American audiences feel a jolt of recognition while watching “Let Me In.” It is the feeling of being small and alone without understanding who you are, let alone who anyone else around you is, that makes the vampires in this movie remind us so much of ourselves.
—Staff writer Rebecca J. Levitan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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