Let Me In

When it was first announced that CLOVERFIELD director and J.J. Abrams compadre Matt Reeves would be writing and directing a US remake of the hugely well received Swedish vampire flick LET THE RIGHT ONE IN, initial responses were mixed to negative. The original had been so critically acclaimed, and was extremely popular. The consensus seemed to be, it’s unnecessary and doomed to be worse than the original.

The consensus was wrong.

Remakes of foreign language films are generally not seen to be necessary, in the eyes of purists. And the history of cinema is littered with weak remakes of powerful originals. But history doesn’t make the rules. The fact that it’s happened before doesn’t make it a necessary truth. It’s gone the other way too. With VANILLA SKY, Cameron Crowe’s startlingly original, multi-layered and visionary remake of the Spanish mystery-thriller ABRE LOS OJOS (Open Your Eyes), it was demonstrated that setting a story in a different culture can add all kinds of extra dimensions and layers, to create a richer, deeper, more complex experience. And if that doesn’t sway you to believe that remaking foreign movies can yield powerful, awesome results, I have two words for you:

THE DEPARTED.

It can, clearly, be done. Much in the manner of Shakespeare plays, we can look at movies and their screenplays as texts, open to reinterpretations that illuminate the time and place in which they are remade. It’s like anything: if it’s done well, it’s done well. Talent often makes arguments redundant. With a high level of creativity and vision, extraordinary things can occur (see also, BAZ LUHRMAN’S WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE’S ROMEO & JULIET, and OCEAN’S ELEVEN).

When LET ME IN was released, it was clear that Matt Reeves brought several critical advantages to the party: a spare, minimalist yet heartbreakingly emotional writing style; absolute mastery of genre; and a true joy and love for great cinema. You really feel that last one in every single frame of this movie. Reeves loves great movies, and here he has lovingly constructed something truly unique and powerful. Every frame reveals his right-on intuition for gorgeous shot composition in complete service to the story. It’s such a gorgeously detailed film, but in such a streamlined way that it flows seamlessly.

It’s a key point to make: as rich and layered as this film is on some levels, it’s beautifully stark and simple on others — there is nothing superfluous in LET ME IN. Not a single second, element of a frame, moment of sound design, or word in the script.

It’s an emotionally and visually taut, tense experience. Reeves demonstrates throughout one of the key signs of a true master — he knows how to use stillness. This is at heart a quiet, meditative film, in the manner of the original story. But in Reeves’ hands, that stillness is not inert. It’s a lethal stillness that comes with the sure knowledge that when it’s time to strike, the movie’s gonna strike hard. Every frame of LET ME IN is poised, ready to attack. Part of the terror of the movie is never knowing when it’s going to happen. It’s like a black belt sixth dan martial arts master, making only the necessary moves to create devastating effects. It’s like Jason Bourne in that scene where he doesn’t move for five minutes then explodes into furious violence.

This is where Reeves’ sensibilities really come to the fore. Comics, horror and genre are all part of this movie’s DNA. There’s a subtle comic book influence deeply infused within the visual look of the movie, and a real affinity for horror. Reeves clearly had a larger budget than the original, but never before has money been spent so subtly or targeted so perfectly. When Chloe Moretz (who gives a remarkable performance to join her brilliant turn as Hit Girl in KICK-ASS) first shows us exactly what her vampire character is capable of, it’s utterly horrifying, thanks to expertly judicious use of special effects, framing and sound design.

In fact, I’d like to single out the sound effects. They’re fucking disgusting, but that’s how they need to be. Reeves does a remarkable job of balancing the lonely emotions with the savagery of the truth of what Moretz’s character is, and what she and those who bond with her have to endure. It’s true that these are truths contained within the original source material (the novel, then the first movie). However, Reeves’ script translates these elements and re-presents them in a new light. It’s a beautiful example of powerful, stripped-back writing.

Reeves’ version punches up the original movie, without ever trampling on it. It’s as reverent and respectable as it needs to be, without fear of pushing forward when necessary. It’s like a cover version of a song that takes over from the original. Like Jimi Hendrix did with All Along The Watchtower. In most people’s minds, that’s a Hendrix song, it’s his. Of course, Bob Dylan wrote it, which I guess in my example makes Reeves Hendrix and Tomas Alfredson Bob Dylan.

LET ME IN is a genre film of superior quality, with fantastic genes, that has become so much more than its potential. It’s beautiful, terrifying, haunting, poetic and thrilling, by turns, all at once, and in the way it lingers, and stays with you.

"the worst of us are a long, drawn-out confession; the best of us are geniuses of compression…"

Words from U2’s latest album No Line On The Horizon, released this week; a quiet, hypnotic set that yet thrums with the hidden but sensed force and latent danger of distant power lines. Occasionally thunder breaks and a storm races through, but the insistently meditative rhythms soon resume to carry us to the album’s Sopranos-like sudden conclusion. In the lines quoted above, Bono is writing in the character of a war correspondent, but those words could apply to all writing, that character could be any writer: “I’m here because I don’t want to go home,” he sings at one point. Writers take the long journey away from themselves, like actors, even as what they write or perform reinforces who they are; who we are. Throughout the album, Bono, perhaps the only rock star to truly channel the kinetic, elusive spirit of the Beats, attains sharp, brutal poetic heights: he has never been such a genius of compression as he is in these songs. “I’m running down the road like loose electricity,” like Kerouac in his original scroll for On The Road, full of restless, shifting energy, the need to escape, to move, to be alive. U2 channel the Beats, the rawness of punk, the immediacy of Japanese poetry, and even Ezra Pound, for they always follow his command to “make it new.” Take everything you know and remake it. That’s what Shakespeare did by turning established stories into new plays; that’s what Baz Luhrmann did when he adapted Romeo & Juliet into an utterly contemporary, furiously edited masterpiece of kinesis. That’s what U2 always do, to varying degrees. Achtung Baby was likely the biggest leap they have ever taken, from the traditional sincerity of The Joshua Tree to the new, heavily disguised, digitized, synthesized sincerity of Zoo Station and The Fly. The Zoo TV live show, while on the hand being utterly of the moment and groundbreaking and new, still carried echoes of Ezra Pound’s Blast magazine, published in 1916, with its one-word-per-page slogans, its cutting up and fragmenting of the cultural norms of the time, its exploding of conventions. The form was deconstructed and technologically rebuilt; this is what U2 have been doing ever since The Fly‘s distorted sonic reinventions. By the time of their Pop album, Bono was openly referencing William Burrough’s philosophy of cutting up the past and re-forming it. True invention and innovation demands the highest level of sincerity and dedication, to the soul of the piece, to the craft of realizing it. No Line On The Horizon is a beautiful, almost silent meditation on a long journey with no end in sight; it’s also sonically, musically and lyrically inventive. Unlike Achtung Baby, that invention is here absorbed by a minimalist soundscape. It takes many listens; all of U2’s layers are compressed into a smoothly digital rendering of loss and hope. It’s a writer’s showcase in many ways; whether you write poetry, music, lyrics, stories, screenplays or novels, at some level the same needs and demands will eventually apply.