14 December 2014

LET ME IN/2010/HAMMER

“Finally, those who worry about that dreaded cinematic dirty word, “Americanization,” are going to likely feel justified in their fears. Let Me In is indisputably a shiny and polished Hollywood product…”

“ …Tomas Alfredson made art out of Let The Right One In. Alfredson took the slow-burn pace of Lindqvist’s script and created some stunning Mise-en-scéne, certainly the best I’ve seen from modern vampire movies. Let The Right One In moved slowly, had little dialogue and even less ambient music, but every frame told a distinct story and every scene alluded to so much more than what was simply on the surface.”
Screen Rant

I wanted to open my take on the most excellent film Let Me In with these quotes from the Screen Rant website not only because I disagree with them but the general tone of the comments are fine samples of the way movie bloggers often write when they compare American cinema to European cinema. They just can’t avoid terms like “mise-en-scene” (here made more pretentious by the inclusion of the adjective “stunning”) as if simply because a director or cinematographer is American they can’t possibly properly frame a shot. And that “…every scene alluded to so much more than what was simply on the surface.” is a little too much to swallow. It is gilding the lily a wee bit too much for me. Now, let me be clear, I thought Let the Right One In was one of the best horror films I had seen in a long time . I have seen it about three times and plan on watching it again soon with the wife. But the return of Hammer  production -which is, of course, a British/European company- is as good as the original if not better, and that is saying a lot. However, I am not going to dismiss the remake as even slightly inferior on the grounds that it was “…a shiny and polished Hollywood product…”. Yea, who wants to see a polished film, and yes, the American version is much more polished and tight. My feeling about the matter has been that it is not that European films are so much better than American ones but that American films are no worse than European ones. And I tend to really  enjoy European cinema quite a bit,  all those  subtle existential nuances American filmmakers are incapable of, but I have never seen it as superior. Just because the director may drink his tea with his pinky extended does not make him a genius. Now that I have gotten that out of my system lets look at this excellent American remake of an excellent European film. Or to be more precise, the American adaptation of the Swedish vampire novel  Låt den Rätte Komma, by John Ajvide Lindqvist –who also wrote the screenplay for the original film- that translates into something akin to the titles of the two films. The article will not be a qualitative comparison of the two films since both are equally excellent and highly recommended.

Let Me In tells the story of two lonely young teens named Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee) and Abby (Chloe Grace Mortez) whose paths crossed a snowy and desolate apartment project in Los Alamos New Mexico, the birth place of the atomic bomb. Owen is scrawny kid with a dark imagination and is the target of school bullies. Of course in both films we immediately see where things are heading with the geeky, weird kid and the pack of alpha-males who make his life a living hell. His parents are going through a divorce and his dad is absent from his life and his mother is either drinking or quoting the Bible all of the time and neither parent ever seems available to Owen. This is the backdrop in which he meets Chloe one night in the apartment complex playground while Owen is stabbing a tree with his new pocket knife. They do not hit it off well and both lay claim to the playground but soon a mutual interest in puzzles –like that damnable Rubik’s cube- form a bond between the two brooding loners. While Owen is a strange lad and spends his time alone peeping on his neighbors with a telescope and wearing a freaky plastic mask his issues pales in comparison to Abby’s, who lives with a man old enough to be her father but we find not is not her father and we never really find out who he is except that she has remained 12 years old while he has aged from the time they knew each other as kids. We are not really sure if Abby is even a girl and a couple deliberately scenes add to this ambivalence in the storyline. In the book –which I have not read but would like to if I can find it in some form here in China, which I doubt- it seems that Abby was in fact a boy at one time who was castrated when he was 12 years old, the same age he/she became a vampire. The relationship, in the book, between Abby and the older man (Eli in the original film and book) is a little more seedy than the films deal with, with the man actually being a pedophile that Eli traps into serving her/him. Both film versions felt this was a bit over the top (rightfully so I think) and the original film let the relationship unexplained while the remake explored it from an audience friendly angle. The man is never named in the film though Abby makes it clear to Owen that he is not her father.


It takes some time for Owen to discover that  his eccentric new friend Abby is a actually vampire and in the meantime the bond between them strengthens as both suffer challenges in their lives. Owen with the bullies and Abby with the loss of her “father” while he is out collecting blood for her. Abby is soon forced into going on risky nocturnal hunts on her own and Owen’s interaction with the bullies gets more complicated after, on Abby’s advice, he stands up to them and wallops the leader up alongside his ear with a pole. A detective (Elias Koteas) is not really sure what is going on with the strange recent spat of deaths in Los Alamos and suspect a satanic cult. He becomes aware of Abby’s presence and soon suspect more is going on than he can understand. Owen is forced in a scene in deciding between helping save the detective’s life or helping Abby feed. I think we know what choice he makes. The film concludes with Abby and Owen leaving Los Alamos together and we are reminded of a shot showing a photo strip picture of Abby and “father” when he was a boy no older than Owen and perhaps faced a similar moment of decision in his life. We never know how old Abby is though the book, I understand, suggests she is between two and three hundred years old. We never know how she became a vampire though I have read of deleted scenes in Let Me In that offered some suggestion. The mystery of not knowing these details makes the film more, than less, engaging. The story keeps true to the original film and there are no surprise twists really. Director Matt Reeves does a fine, if not superb, job despite apprehensions by many that he could not really pull it off after his found footage, big monster film Cloverfield.

Hammer producer Simon Oakes stated that Let Me In became a project long before the original film became so popular. Thinking the original might just remain an underground hit in Europe he felt the needed a retelling for a wider audience. There was some shock after the original became so popular but the production went forward anyway and has met with some harsh criticism from fans of the original, some who even refuse to see the new version. If that if the take some reader have then that is too bad since the remake is a fine film and in a rare case of film making does not over shadow the original in some negative way. Some shots –like the swimming pool scene at the end- are done with reverence to the original. Some else could have been done with the new version but Reeves seems to acknowledge he cannot add to perfection. I have read online that the book contains another film’s worth of material and yet I really hope there is not a sequel, either from Hollywood and Hammer or from Sweden. I haveseldom  seen two films so worthy of simply being left alone as they are. The acting between the young leads in Let Me In is darkly wonderful. The cinematography and effects word fine and the CGI is not overdone and, in my view, works well. There are those who feel any CGI is bad CGI and I am not from that school. The score works with the film and the selection of the deserts of New Mexico as a substitute for the bleak Swedish winter is amazingly effective. It is a great film I can’t say enough about. See ‘em both. But I am not worried at all about saying that Let Me In is the more entertaining (i.e. more “polished”), even if ever so slightly, of the two films.




2 comments:

Dr. Theda said...

The Original ( even with sub-titles) is a much better film....

Bill Courtney said...

DR. T
I have to disagree with you there. Subtitles are no problem, and I did see a dubbed version once I could not finish. The original is a good movie but I cannot bring myself to say it was much better. This would go into places I would like to explore in an article some day about remakes and foreign films in general. That remakes are always worse and foreign films are always better, but I am not saying that you are taking that position. In the end, and I think I said it in the article, both are fine films but I fell the US/British version is more to my liking.