The Swedish “Let the Right One In” was the best of the recent vampire movies, but it had the misfortune of requiring subtitles, something that American audiences seem incapable of dealing with. So a Hollywood remake was pretty much inevitable. One might have expected the result to be as much a misfire as all the Englished retreads of Japanese ghost stories. But happily “Let Me In” turns out to be a solid horror film. Those who have seen the original might be a tad disappointed, but for the most part Matt Reeves (“Cloverfield”) manages a stylish, chilly, respectful retread that should especially please newcomers to the tale but not disappoint fans of the original too much.
Though it transports the setting to Los Alamos, New Mexico (and situates it in 1983), Reeves’s film sticks quite closely to Tomas Alfredson’s adaptation of John Ajvide Lindqvist’s novel about a lonely, bullied little boy, here called Owen, who learns that Abby, the girl who moves into the apartment next to his, is actually a vampire, and much older—and stronger—than she looks. The centerpiece of the story is the friendship—or more properly adolescent romance—that slowly develops between the two, and that’s handled fairly well, if not with the degree of delicacy as in Alfredson’s film. That’s largely because the young actors—Kodi Smit-McPhee (of “The Road”) and Chloe Grace Moretz (of “Kiss-Ass”) don’t equal the ethereal quality of their Scandinavian counterparts.
There’s some compensation, however, in the performances of Richard Jenkins as Abby’s guardian, who proves inept at collecting the human blood she needs to survive, and Elias Koteas, as a detective who doggedly ferrets out the truth about the series of suspicious murders in his district. As always, Jenkins brings shading to his character far beyond what the script provides, and Koteas plays his role with the conviction it needs to maintain our suspension of disbelief (he also carries off his final scene, in which he discovers what Abby really is—a sequence that recalls Vera Miles’s fruit cellar search in “Psycho”—with the skill of an old pro).
Some of Reeves’s additions are excellent, too. He invests the two murders that Jenkins’ character commits with genuine suspense, adding material involving cars that works especially well (including, the second time around, a strand of gallows humor that’s particularly welcome).
On the other hand, his chronological tinkering in the first half of the picture, apparently designed to provide a striking opening sequence, comes across as unnecessary. His addition of a strand of religious fanaticism to Owen’s mother is a tired cliché. And his use of CGI in the sequences involving Abby’s attacks is a mistake; it’s poorly done, and undermines the illusion. Suggestion and shadow would have been wiser choices.
For the most part, however, his transformation of the material is well crafted, with atmospheric work from cinematographer Greig Fraser, production designer Ford Wheeler, art director Guy Barnes and composer Michael Giacchino. Direct comparisons with “Let the Right One In” reveal that the Swedish film is simply more elegant, the most obvious example being the climactic swimming pool scene, which Reeves encumbers with an unnecessary locker-room prologue and doesn’t manage to stage with the same degree of visual poetry that Alfredson brought to it. But at least he resists what must have been a strong temptation to add a “twenty-five years later” epilogue for symmetry’s sake.
And “Let Me In” is so far superior to the usual run of Hollywood horror films that one can easily forgive the fact that it doesn’t quite match its Swedish model.