LET ME IN. Starring: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Chloe Moretz, Richard Jenkins, and Cara Buono. Directed by Matt Reeves. Rated MA15+ Restricted (Strong horror themes and violence). 115 min.
This film is an American remake of the Swedish film, “Let the Right One in” by Tomas Alfredson, which swept international awards before it a little over two years ago. It tells the story of a 12-year old boy, Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee) who is bullied at school and forms an attachment to a mysterious young girl, Abbey (Chloe Moretz), who happens to be a vampire. Abbey and Owen live in apartments next door to each other. It is a horror film with lots of violence, as one expects from any vampire movie, but the film departs from the usual genre in also being a sensitive story of two isolated children, who form a relationship to each other. The dependence on the same book with the film’s title by Ajvide Lindqvist is high. The culture of the film is different. It is set in Los Alamos, New Mexico, but the mood remains the same. Owen is neglected by his parents, as well as being bullied savagely at school, and he enters a world where his loneliness matches Abbey’s own tragic isolation.
Abbey requires blood to stay alive and the person who looks after her (Richard Jenkins) kills people to supply it to her. Cara Buono plays the role of Owen’s mother, who has no way of coping with what is happening to her son, and curiously, Matt Reeves, as director, never shows her face in focus. Despite the fact there is gore and blood everywhere, the relationship between the two children is depicted touchingly and sensitively. Moretz and Smit-McPhee are outstanding as the two children, eclipsing the adults around them in the quality of their acting. Abbey is a monster, and Owen is drawn into her world as they strive for the affection that both of them need. Owen faces the moral dilemma of giving into his inclination for violence, which is being fed by his attraction to Abbey, or breaking his attachment to her and turning back to reality to get a hold on life. The images of Owen tell his story, and they require little dialogue to make their point, while Abbey manages to capture just right the vulnerability of a 12-year old, who has been 12 many times. The contamination of innocence (represented by Owen) through contact with evil (represented by Abbey) underlies the entire film.
It would have been tempting to make this movie a slash and kill film, and leave blood and gore to carry its impact. But it is not that kind of film. Everyone in this movie is trapped by their circumstances, and we learn of the reasons for their behaviour. Abbey’s care-giver does not want to serially kill, but he feels he has no option, if Abbey is to stay alive. Owen is horrified by what he sees, but can’t help being drawn emotionally to Abbey. Even the bully at school has a past and we come to know why he harasses those around him. But this is a fantasy-thriller movie that has a reputation to sustain, and so the movie’s shocks happen, as expected. Buckets of blood are used to give Abbey a particularly nasty look, and much of the serial killing is shown graphically. But the movie is thoughtful and imaginative, and excellent photography gives it’s brooding tension additional force. The movie is heavily stylised, uses staged set designs and sepia photography effectively, and the overall eeriness of the film is accentuated dramatically by its music sound-track.
This is a classy horror movie that is different from most others of its kind, and it focuses sensitively on the dynamics of the friendship between Owen and Abbey. But it is not a movie for the squeamish. This is a film that richly deserves its restricted classification, and viewers should know that lots of chills and terror lurk around corners in the film. Horror and violence take over from time to time where one’s sympathy for Abbey’s plight is side-lined by the ferocity of her behaviour at dinner-time. In doing this, however, the film remains true to its genre.
This is a quality film which holds your attention throughout. Suspenseful, dramatic and imaginative, it is a supernatural thriller that packs an emotional punch well above the ordinary.
Peter W Sheehan is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.
Icon Film Distribution.
Out October 14, 2010.