Cult Swedish vampire drama Let The Right One In wasn’t really about vampires.
It was, in fact, an incredibly sweet, subtle story about loneliness, friendship and the mysteries of childhood. Cloverfield writer/director Matt Reeves gets this.
His terrific American remake gets almost everything about the original, beautifully translating its plot, character and even style with intelligence, reverence and affection.
This time round, we’re in early ‘80s suburban New Mexico. Ronald Reagan is on the TV. 'Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?' is on the radio.
And snow is falling on a 12-year-old boy called Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee), who’s tormented by bullies at school, and a strange little girl-next-door called Abby (Chloe Grace Moretz) who doesn’t seem to feel the cold.
Cast before their breakout turns in The Road and Kick-Ass, Smit-Phee and Moretz are superb, giving performances that are arguably even more gentle and fierce than their Swedish counterparts.
They also help Reeves amp up the first film’s theme of gender confusion: Owen gets jibed as a "little girl" at school and Abby declares, "I'm not a girl. I'm nothing."
Although fans of the original will note that a key shot is missing... Some things, it seems, a mainstream audience just aren’t quite ready to see yet.
That doesn't include some seriously brutal jolts of vampire throat-ripping, mind.
Despite amping up the vampirism with CG, Reeves skillfully adopts the original’s choice of long, suspenseful shots and intricate sound design to construct a fearful, wintry mood.
But the one moment when he uncorks a flash of original visual invention – an unbroken single shot from inside a crashing car – is so brilliant it makes you crave more.
Because overall, for anyone who’s seen Let The Right One In, Reeves' remake feels slightly less intriguing and slightly more familiar than it should. It’s an excellent film.
It just would have been even better if Alfredsen hadn’t made it first. As the scenes slide by, Let Me In follows the snowy tracks of the original so squarely that it doesn't quite leave enough fresh marks of its own.
But there’s still plenty here to be fascinated by, in this strange world where children are dangerously ruthless and clueless adults stumble around after them (Elias Koteas’ cop and Richard Jenkins’ mentor both fade into that background).
Proving that even the most faithful remake is never truly redundant, Let Me In is a welcome surprise – a movie strong enough to stand on its own and satisfy fans of the original.
If we hadn’t already seen it in Swedish, we’d probably be talking up Reeves’ dark, gripping vampire remake – and its two lead performances – as something rather special. Actually, we’re going to do that anyway.
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