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Director: Matt Reeves
Stars: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Chloë Grace Moretz, Elias Koteas, Richard Jenkins, Dylan Minnette
Release date: October 1, 2010
Adolescence is the big suck. Your tween/teen body is an awkward, sprouty, hormonal thing that belongs to neither the child or adult worlds. Your ownership of it is questionable anyhow because the older authority figures you still legally depend upon tell you what you can and cannot do with it. And peers try to hide their own titanic insecurities by trashing you, sometimes literally stuffing you into a can.
It’s no wonder why teen vampire dramas have become so popular with puberty’s prisoners. In escapist fantasies like Twilight and The Vampire Diaries, young bloodsuckers are powerful, attractive, and everybody wants a hickie from them. These properties are sugary fluff that gets stuck in your braces, but they serve their purpose of distraction.
For those who’d rather stare down the often ugly and painful reality of childhood, the adolescent “vampire movie” to watch is Let Me In, Cloverfield director Matt Reeves’ 2010 American remake of Let the Right One In, Tomas Alfredson’s 2008 Swedish film, which former bullying victim and screenwriter John Ajvide Lindqvist adapted from his 2004 novel. Why the quotes? Because Let Me In is about vampires like The Wire is about surveillance equipment.
Unlike movies that make life after death look fang-tastic, both of these adaptations use vampirism as a metaphor for everything that’s difficult about adolescence. You’re trapped in a strange body. You’re limited in where you can go and when. Nobody understands you. You feel like ripping people’s throats open.
A dark and violent coming-of-age love story between a scrawny, bullied, 12-year-old boy named Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee) and Abby (Chloë Grace Moretz), his new vampire neighbor who’s been trapped in her bloodthirsty, sun-averse girl body since she was turned lifetimes ago, Let Me In goes to some disturbing places. When Abby meets Owen in his apartment complex in Los Alamos, New Mexico, his existence is a lonely one. His dad is absent, his mom props herself up with alcohol and religion, and outside of regular physical and verbal abuse from school bully Kenny (Dylan Minnette) and his two sheepish friends, Owen has little interaction with classmates. He fantasizes about revenge, hurling the same emasculating insults he receives at a mirror and tree, stabbing the latter repeatedly with a pocket knife. In Abby, he finds an equally isolated and sad spirit, and someone to help him fight back for real.
It’s rare that we’ll tout a remake over the original—there were plenty of calls to put Let the Right One In on this list—but Let Me In is not your typical underwhelming and unnecessary exploitation of American moviegoers’ allergic reaction to subtitles. Both films are quite good, and remarkably feature flawless performances from child actors, but as dark as Alfredson’s version is, Reeves’ even grimmer take on Lindqvist’s novel does more with the themes. Perhaps it’s American sensitivity to bullying and school violence, but the little Swedish bullies seem more like Martin Prince from The Simpsons than the hate-filled dangers of Let Me In. Owen’s terrified cries and pants-wetting when he’s given a wedgie that could literally tear him a new asshole, or when boys drag him half naked to the pool to put the scare of drowning in him, are terribly upsetting.
Similarly disturbing in Reeves' version is the more feral quality that he and Moretz bring to Abby when she's in vampiric thirst mode. She’s ugly, scary, and barely able to control her impulses and survival instincts, and yet she’s all that Owen has, and a sympathetic figure in her own right. (Personally, I could have done without the occasional CGI vampire movements, which are present in both films but featured more heavily in the remake, but mountains and molehills, you know?)
To complicate the viewer’s rooting interest in Owen and Abby’s romance more than Alfredson did, Reeves further developed the tragic figure that is her creepy "father" (Richard Jenkins), who begrudgingly stalks and kills people for Abby as she drifts away from him. He also replaced the original’s innocent—but not entirely likable—local drunk, who pokes around where he should not, with an entirely decent homicide detective (Elias Koteas) who investigates what he believes are satanic cult murders.
The line between innocent youth and monstrosity gets blurry. And bloody. Reeves' beautiful, masterfully orchestrated, and superbly acted film ultimately asks more questions than it answers, which is perfect for a horror exploration of the confusing period that is adolescence. After all, it isn't until your early twenties that you think you know everything. —Justin Monroe