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:
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.