Monday, November 1, 2010

Let Me In - Theatrical Review

Release Date: October 1, 2010

Review Vital Stats:
Theater: AMC 30 at the Block
Time: 2:00 pm October 30, 2010
Screen Type: Digital

Loves: Chloe Moretz
Likes: Matt Reeves, different takes on a tired genre
Neutral: American remakes of foreign films
Hates:  That nobody went and saw this in the theater

Let's get a couple things out of the way before we get started here. I have never seen the 2008 Swedish film Let the Right One In and am not familiar with the 2004 novel of the same name. I had heard from various publications and Internet sites that it was one of the best vampire movies made in the past decade. But still I remained uninterested in it for some reason. I don't consider myself to be the stereotypical lazy American when it comes to subtitled films, my interest was just never peaked for some reason. Then I heard of the American remake and I could still care less...then I heard Matt Reeves was attached to direct it...then I heard Chloe Moretz was cast in it...then finally my interest had been peaked.

Our story takes place in Los Alamos, New Mexico in the winter of 1983. The opening scene shows us an ambulance and two police cars traveling through a snow covered desert in the middle of the night. Inside the ambulance we hear chatter over the radio about an unidentified man that has burns covering 90% of his face and head as the paramedics struggle to save the man's life in the rear of the ambulance. Soon after we are at the hospital where a detective (Elias Koteas) attempts to question the horribly burnt man but some complications arise that prevent him from getting any answers out of the man.

Abby is not your ordinary 12 year old girl.
We are then sent back two weeks earlier where we meet a young 12 year old boy named Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee). He lives with his recently divorced mother in this fairly low rent looking apartment complex. We see that he is a somewhat awkward kid who appears to be a little unstable. He spends his nights spying on his neighbors through his telescope in between his masked psychopath play sessions in front of his mirror. He has no friends either at school or where he lives and is the object of abuse for the local school bully on a daily basis. Then one night while looking through his telescope he sees a man and little girl moving their things into his complex. He takes quick note that the girl is not wearing any shoes while traipsing through the snow at the dead of night. And it just so happens that they move in right next door to him.

He eventually meets the young girl while at his usual hang out at the apartment playground. She introduces herself as Abby (Chloe Moretz) and the first thing she tells him is that they can never be friends but Owen becomes smitten with her almost immediately regardless. She is a mysterious girl, when he asks about why she doesn't wear shoes she tells him that she doesn't ever get cold and he remarks that she has a strange odor about her. Through continued meetings in the playground each night Abby also starts to feel something for Owen and the two of them quickly form a friendship that will test them in ways they never thought possible. Both Owen and Abby are lost and adrift in the worlds they inhabit but are able to find some peace when they are together. However, Abby did have her reasons for her initial warning though because she is not quite the timid young girl her 12 year old frame suggests.

Owen slowly begins to realize who Abby really is.
You see, Abby is a vampire and a vicious one at that. That odor Owen smelled on her is what happens when she hasn't fed for a while. And when she gets hungry...let's just say she gets really hungry. When she attacks her victims she becomes like a ravenous animal. Her movements are almost insect like as she scurries across a courtyard, climbs a tree or overwhelms her prey. This is in complete contrast with her timid nature when she is with Owen and unlike other vampires she is driven more by instinct and has very little control over herself when she gets the scent of blood in the air. Because of her unpredictable nature it is up to her caretaker whom she refers to as her father (Richard Jenkins) to go out each night and secure them enough blood to survive on.

We don't know much about him other than he is the man in charge of Abby and her provider so to speak. How he provides is to go out each night and kill a random victim in such a way as to not alarm the local police to anything unusual beyond a simple murder while obtaining enough blood to sustain both him and Abby. It is hinted at that they have been living like this for a very long time and we see that it has taken a toll on the father. During one of these routine killings there are some problems that occur that leaves Abby all alone to fend for herself. Not having someone to take care of her she is a danger to herself and to others even more so than usual. It is then that her friendship with Owen becomes a sort of lifeline for her and where she begins to reveal her true nature to him as she tries to feel out whether or not he will accept her for who she is.

Abby shares a moment with her father.
This is most certainly not your everyday run of the mill vampire story and it is easy to see why the Swedish film was held in such high esteem. It is first and foremost a vampire story but told from the point of view of a child vampire. This was explored to a limited extent in the film Interview with the Vampire but I feel as if this is a much more raw look at how a little girl living with this curse is forced to survive. She is a kid, a very old kid but a kid none the less. Her first instinct is to turn to the one and only thing left in her life which is Owen who becomes not only a soul mate of sorts but the only person she can rely on.

When Abby isn't busy ripping people's throats out she seems slightly helpless and afraid. Even though you know she is a ruthless killer that still doesn't mean she has the mind of a child. Her moments with Owen show her human side, however slight that may be and their scenes together are easily the highlight of the film in my opinion. Their relationship seems doomed from the get go but in a strange way you want this bloodthirsty killer disguised as an innocent little girl to survive . The same goes for Owen, you want him to be there for her even though there is a real threat present whenever Abby is in the room with him. There is a moment later in the film when Owen injures himself in front of Abby and her reaction to the sight of his blood is horrifying.

The detective hunting down Abby and her father.
I want to talk a little bit about the couple of things I mentioned at the beginning of this review that got me interested in the film when it was announced. The first of which was having director Matt Reeves take the helm. His most notable feature up to this point is most definitely Cloverfield where he showed great restraint against the cliches of your typical monster movie. I was intrigued by what he would deliver for his second big feature dealing with vampires. I had no attachment to the Swedish film as mentioned before so I was looking forward to seeing if that restraint would transfer over to a film like this.

And restraint he showed, sure you get some pretty gruesome kills littered throughout the film but I felt like he never took it too far. His focus is always on the budding relationship between Owen and Abby and rightfully so. The only negative I could find in any of the decisions he made here was the over abundant use of CGI for Abby's attack scenes. It wasn't so bad that it took me out of the movie (although it was close) but it was bad enough that I noticed it. One of the early scenes involving Abby, a strange man and a sewer tunnel gets the worse of this effect but thankfully those moments are few and far between and mostly hidden by darkness. I didn't see the need for all the CG but I suppose that is the world we live in anymore.

I cannot end this without mentioning Chloe Moretz. Between her portrayal as a foulmouthed super hero in Kick-Ass earlier this year and her reserved performance here as a little girl living with a horrible curse I believe she has proven once an for all that she is a rising star to keep an eye on. It is sad that both this film and Kick-Ass under performed at the box office but I think that is more or less due to her picking projects that are daring and will help her grow as an actress. Without a doubt she is my performer of the year and I cannot wait for all her other projects that are due out in the near future.

Abby embraces Owen just after an early breakfast.
I would also like to point out that just about all the performances in the film were good across the board, especially the boy that played Owen, he had a lot of chemistry with Chloe that only helped convey their growing affections for one another. Elias Koteas had a good presence as the detective for his few scenes and Richard Jenkins did what he could with the underwritten father character. The one person I haven't really mentioned is the woman that plays Owen's mother and that is because even though you see her repeatedly the film makers made a strange decision to never show her face. I am not sure what the thinking was there, perhaps a visual way of letting us know how Owen views his mother but in any case it didn't really ever seem to factor into anything, but it was distracting a little bit.

Now, I want to take a quick second to talk about the ending so if you don't want to know anything go ahead and skip this entire paragraph. The final scene after the massacre at the pool with Owen on the train was a perfect ending. After all the things they had been through together with him protecting her and her protecting him it was refreshing to see that it didn't have to end in tragedy. When Owen knocks on the large trunk using the Morse code they used to communicate through their apartment walls with and you hear a knock back from inside...well, that just put a smile on my face. One has to wonder though what Owen's mother must think since he technically ran away from home with Abby and left everything behind on what seemed to be a whim. I thought that was a strange decision on his part, not because he wanted to leave with Abby (he mentions how much he hates where he lives) but as faceless as his mother was I never got the idea that she was a bad mother.

There really is nothing more to be said about the film. It is beautifully shot, has an original take on a tired genre, and has what I consider to be one of the better romances of the year no matter how unconventional it may be. If you like yourself some good vampire fiction (I finally learned why vampires must be invited into someones household) you could do a lot worse. Although I suppose there is always the original film version to pick from as I guess in that case you have yourself a dilemma there. I say pick the American version and see it as a solid alternate for anyone too lazy to deal with some subtitles or if you feel so inclined go for the Swedish film which has been critically acclaimed by nearly everyone that has seen it...but me. The choice is yours but I have made mine and I say as far as the American Matt Reeves version is concerned...



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