Thursday, September 30, 2010

A remake that sticks close to the original

Moretz and Smit-McPhee locked together.

We’ve seen so many vampire movies lately that these blood-sucking creatures of the night have come to seem like neighbors, a bit more remote perhaps but also distressingly familiar. It’s worth remembering, then,that the Swedish movie, Let the Right One In (2008), was one of the strangest,most original and emotionally resonant of all the vampire movies to hit the screen within the last several years.

Built around the torments of a lonely boy living in the chill of what seemed an endless winter, Let the Right One In echoed with the sadness of something that felt like eternal soullessness. The 12-year-old boy at the movie’s center was caught in a trap that never allowed the kind of triumphant release we’ve come to expect from horror movies.

Now comes the inevitable American remake, and the surprise, I suppose, is that Let Me In (a slightly altered title) doesn’t betray everything about its bleak predecessor. A little more vivid, a little more graphic and significantly less ambiguous than the Swedish original, Let Me In nonetheless follows a course that’s steeped in horror – not only the shock of bloody attacks – but also of being caught in an unbreakable cycle of deterioration and woe.

Kodi Smit-McPhee's Owen lives with his single mom (Cara Bouno) in a nondescript apartment complex in what seems to be a small town in the middle of nowhere, the kind of remote place where the cold invades bones.

One evening, a man (Richard Jenkins) and his daughter (Chloe Moretz) move into one of the apartments. Director Matt Reeves (Cloverfield) quickly establishes that there’s something different about 12-year-old Abby. Abby doesn’t wear shoes, even in the cold. She doesn’t attend school. She seems tougher (and smarter) than most 12-year-old girls. And maybe the man who accompanies her isn’t her father.

Reeves mostly follows the lead of the original in a story that deals with the way Owen is bullied at school. His mom – intentionally photographed in ways that never allow her to emerge as a full presence -- doesn’t understand her son’s loneliness. His father isn’t around. He’s one of those kids left to cope with difficult situations without adult help.

Reeves slowly develops the relationship between Owen and Abby, and for those who haven’t seen the Swedish original, the movie may seem a revelation, the antithesis of the garish shock machines that typify most American horror, as well as a kind of commentary on alliances formed at a time when one is too young to make significant decisions.

It’s no surprise that Jenkins gives a fine performance. Same goes for Elias Koteas, who plays a cop. But the movie couldn’t possibly work if its two young actors weren’t up to the task. Smit-McPhee, who played the boy in the unrelentingly grim big-screen adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, has a wounded quality that’s perfect for the movie, and Moretz, last seen as a profanity-spewing dynamo in Kick-Ass, projects just the right amount of eerie resolve.

If there must be remakes of foreign movies, Let Me In probably qualifies as a model for how it should be done. The movie may be have moved from Sweden to the U.S., but in a way location hardly matters. The story really takes place in the land of loneliness and in the bruised areas of the human heart.

No comments: