I had been putting off watching 2010’s Let Me In. I loved 2008’s Let the Right One In from Sweden, as well as the 2004 novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist. I also have this thing about remaking perfectly good foreign films so that English-speaking audiences can watch them: if something is incredible, it’s incredible and deserves to be seen, so stop complaining and read the subtitles. There are many instances of a failure in the translation of native language to English: the English version often lacks something special and becomes the far inferior version. Let Me In, though, didn’t have this issue. I have to admit that I was pleasantly surprised. This is no easy feat, and I wondered where this one managed to soar where others fell flat. Where I think this lies is the approach writer/director Matt Reeves took: a focus on the characters and linking of the actions to their relationships rather than either a shot-for-shot remake or no-holds-barred gore-fest.
|I didn’t want to like you, but dammit, I do.
This film adequately explores the very real horror of bullying by expanding and intensifying the treatment of Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee) at the hands of ringleader Kenny (Dylan Minnette). While the 2008 Swedish film tackled this one, the 2010 version undertook a more brutal approach to the same subject matter. We got to witness increased isolation at school in Owen’s behalf: spitballs, sitting out at gym during swimming, the smiles he exhibits when Kenny gets in trouble for trying to pull down a girl’s bathing suit. This may sound weird, but as someone who grew up in the 1980s with kids that got wedgies, I can tell you that I was happy that Reeves added how physically painful the experience can be, as well as inclusion of the fact that Owen wet himself during the incident. For those of you that haven’t read the book, I’ll spoil something small: the character Oskar has a bladder control issue that is linked directly to his bullying; that Reeves included it made me like the film a bit more because he clearly read the source material.L Likewise, Reeves added a dimension to Kenny that was well-thought out and in complete alignment with the pathology of a bully. At a few different points, Kenny attempts annoying behavior that borders on escalating harassment of girls, most notably in the pool and in the classroom. He’s seen on at least two separate occasions physically interacting with girls in an attempt to either touch them or initiate a lower level of sexual contact: breast exposure and the playing with hair. These are troubling behaviors for someone with a proclivity for making life a living hell for his classmate. Considering that Kenny also refers to Owen as “her” and “she,” then uses the power dynamic to coerce Owen into silence regarding injuries, it’s very clear that Kenny has gender-based domination issues. Throw in that Kenny himself is called a “little girl” by his older brother, and it’s a depth that we don’t normally get with our big bad wolves. The feat that Reeves accomplishes with this: we very much dislike Kenny, but we understand why he behaves this way. Making someone unsympathetic when there’s wiggle room for sympathy can be an art form.
On the other side of the power scale, we get Abby (Chloe Grace Moretz) and Thomas (Richard Jenkins), whose relationship has hit a rough patch. Abby seems detached upon moving into the building, and her annoyance at Thomas failing to procure blood is far more intense. Better yet, it’s two-sided, which makes it more of a dialogue as opposed to a diatribe. Abby speaks in her vampiric voice to Thomas in this instance, and allows Thomas to voice his defense: he’s getting sloppy, maybe he’s just tired, maybe he’s too old for this and is letting her down. During this explanation, the expression Jenkins wears is that of a man that is truly tired: he looks unhappy, he looks like he’s failed someone he loves, he looks sad. We get to further see the deterioration of their relationship with increased fighting and Abby’s pulling away, especially when she sees him in his room and tells him, “I have to get in there. Move. Move.” However, they do try to patch things up as most close relationships would, and we get those non-verbals, most notably when Abby strokes Thomas’s cheek before he goes out for the last time to get her food. By the time that Thomas offers her his neck at the hospital, we see that he is devoted, and that Abby, in return, cares for him as well. For me, this deepened the relationship and provided greater motivation not by being far-fetched as some other films would go (*coughcoughBlackChristmasremakecoughcough*). The performances of Moretz and Jenkins – both excellent on their own – worked to have me believe that there was history there. It worked well.
|This was a touching departure from the source material.
The last one I’m going to address here is the relationship between Owen and his parents. This one was a gamble, and I think it paid off. Owen’s parents are divorcing, and we see the pain involved in this split with an honesty that takes into account the silent suffering of the impacted child. Owen’s mother is not attentive, and cries to herself on the couch when she thinks her son isn’t looking. Her face is blurry and not directly filmed, and Owen’s nameless dad gets a similar treatment: we only ever hear his voice. We hear his parents fight with each other, and are thus placed in Owen’s isolated perspective. We also see and hear them dismiss their child’s suffering: Owen’s mother does not recognize that something is going on at school with her ever-the-more-silent child (particularly with the shoddy cheek-injury story), and his father sums up his son’s desperate question of the existence of evil as his mother’s “religious crap.” This child does not have a solid adult in which to confide, which makes him more receptive to the friendship he shares with Abby. The depression felt in this environment is reflected in the lighting choices: it’s dark and gray, with a sickly yellow/orange tinge in his bedroom and the outside world. This is a sick environment, and the setting demonstrates the decay of the family beautifully.
|I can only hope that my divorce didn’t do this to my kids.
While this one didn’t go for all of the high points of the book – really, both the 2008 and 2010 versions could have delved deeper into the history of the character Eli – it managed to work because it brought it back to the characters. It didn’t have to rely on gore, though we did get some at certain points. It worked with atmosphere, lighting and old-fashioned story telling to present a fresh take on the sourcem material. Much like a book, we got to see these characters as people, and we cared when they were angry, abused and scared. We followed them because we wanted to. This one made me feel both scared for Owen and sympathetic toward Abby and Thomas. Really, if you can make me feel something akin to what I felt, you’ve done your job. This one goes down as one of the few English-language remakes I enjoyed. Nice job, Mr. Reeves.