Under the Radar: ‘Let Me In’

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Remake. Just say the word aloud: remake. If you feel a distinct coppery taste in your mouth or the intense urge to expectorate, you are not alone. While animosity toward remakes is not specific to the horror genre, we tend to be the most outspoken when it comes to voicing our distaste. I am not faulting horrorphiles; quite the opposite, in fact. The reason we get so up-in-arms over remakes is that we have such a deep love for the original material that we instantly recoil at the idea that anyone dare tamper with greatness. Luckily for all of us, despite the seemingly obvious evidence to the contrary, Let Me In is no remake.

Let Me InLet Me In, by Cloverfield director Matt Reeves, was released on DVD and Blu-ray this week. I beg your indulgence on two potential points of contention here. Yes, Let Me In did receive a wide theatrical release, but it was an independent film that made much less at the box office than it cost to produce, so it’s safe to assume many of you did not see it. And yes, it does closely resemble the 2008 cult Swedish vampire flick Let the Right One In. But that is part and parcel with the fact that Let Me In was based on the same novel as Let the Right One In. And though it is terribly easy to use the term for streamlined description to those unfamiliar with it (I’m just as guilty myself), Let Me In is no more a remake of Let the Right One In than John Carpenter’s The Thing is a remake of Howard Hawk’s The Thing from Another World.

Like the Thing/Thing from Another World scenario, both Let Me In and Let the Right One In are based on the same source material: the sci-fi novella Who Goes There and the novel Lat den ratte komma in, respectively. But where Carpenter’s film is vastly different from Hawk’s due to his more faithful adaptation of the story, Reeves’ film feels hauntingly familiar because, like the Swedish version, he does not deviate much from the source. Nevertheless, both scenarios are indicative of a filmmaker’s desire to tell a pre-existing story his own way. Though a filmed adaptation of Lat den ratte komma in already existed, Reeves was so in love with the novel that he too wanted to tell that story. But never was it his intention to capitalize on its popularity, such as it was, nor any other shameless breed of profiteering.

Where the two films differ beyond superficial and finite alterations is in the characterization of the young female vampire. In the Swedish film, she is far darker, more manipulative, and more sinister. In Let Me In, she is played with far greater sympathy; her vampirism feels more like a curse than a pursuit. Little exchanges between her and Owen in Let Me In make you sad for her, while similar exchanges in Let the Right One In read as the unsettling prelude to violence. That, in many ways, explains the titular change. She is cast as a victim right beside her prey, so Let Me In becomes a plea. On the other hand, Let the Right One In is a warning about the monster you allow into your life.

Let Me InLet Me In also happens to be one of my favorite films of 2010. It draws from the same well as a film I truly love while establishing its own voice and spotlighting themes of the story that were ancillary elements of the Swedish film. It builds nuance for characters that were entirely secondary in the first adaptation, and how can you not love all the ’80s-themed mise en scene? I love the exploration of Owen’s tumultuous relationship with his mother — another facet that makes this adaptation unique. If nothing else, it heralds the return of the almighty Hammer Studios. Check out their new logo; it’s outstanding and like a narcotic for fans.

I can’t recommend this film more highly, and Anchor Bay did not skimp on the release, particularly the Blu-ray. The picture and sound are, unsurprisingly, sharp and clear. The features include a special in-picture dissection of the film that delves deeply into even the subtlest aspects via interviews and storyboards. There is also a stellar breakdown of not only one of the best scenes in the film but one of the finest special-effects shots of the last decade: the car crash. Which, by the way, is not in the first adaptation. The included miniature graphic novel is a sweet little bonus.

For those of you avoiding seeing this film due to a distaste for remakes, I understand your reservation. But I implore you to give Let Me In a chance and can assure you that it is not a remake.