It loses its fangs in translation
By Michael O'Sullivan
Friday, October 1, 2010
Something is lost in the translation in "Let Me In," the English-language adaptation of the acclaimed 2008 Swedish vampire film "Let the Right One In."
The problem isn't a lack of respect for the original. In some ways, writer-director Matt Reeves ("Cloverfield") is almost too deferential. Set in a snow-covered Los Alamos in the winter of 1983, his film about the friendship between a bullied boy and the vampire girl next door apes the cold, blood-drained look of Tomas Alfredson's original, occasionally shot for shot. Lines are repeated, sometimes word for word, from John Ajvide Lindqvist's moody screenplay, based on his 2004 novel.
But the rendition nevertheless feels off key.
Not literally, of course. Michael Giacchino's score is suitably creepy. And the movie generally satisfies the most basic requirements of the horror genre. It's scary, and sticks with you for a while after you leave the theater. The theme, too, remains intact: that the cruelty we inflict on each other is worse than that perpetrated by a bloodsucker.
Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is a 12-year-old loner. Living with his divorced mother (Cara Buono), he strikes up a tentative friendship with Abby (Chloe Grace Moretz), a girl who appears to be about his age, when she moves into the apartment next door with her weary-looking father (Richard Jenkins).
Except that he may or may not be her father. At times, Abby -- who wanders through the snow in her bare feet, and who gives her age as 12, "more or less" -- treats the man more like a servant. And he obliges, making midnight runs to the convenience store parking lot to pick up her dinner -- in the form of blood, drained from one of the local high-school jocks. Like a kosher butcher, he's seen stringing up one of his victims from a tree, letting the fresh blood flow from a hole in his neck into a plastic milk jug. Reeves's camera shows us everything, where the Swedish film merely watched over the father's shoulder.
Owen, meanwhile, has been getting picked on by a trio of middle-school sadists led by Kenny (Dylan Minnette), himself the target of an older brother's bullying. Abby, who has by now befriended Owen after initial, understandable standoffishness, doesn't like this.
You won't either. Like the Swedish film, "Let Me In" is a setup for a satisfying, if grisly, revenge fantasy. It's "Revenge of the Nerds" with teeth.
But "Let the Right One In" was about so much more than that. Gone in this American version is a fleeting but suggestive shot in Alfredson's film that revealed the vampire -- called Eli in the original -- to have something other than female genitalia. There was a strange androgyny to Eli that made her relationship with the human boy all the more affecting. In this version, it feels more like plain old puppy love, an R-rated "Twilight."
Such squeamishness on Reeves's part does not extend to violence. While "Let the Right One In" was far from tame, everything in "Let Me In" feels amped up for Hollywood. The bullies are crueler; their taunts more terrifying. And Abby is fiercer. The couple of scenes in which she attacks people are done in CGI, making her look like a spider monkey on crack. It's distracting and throws you right out of any believability the film has otherwise painstakingly constructed. In one scene in which Abby laps up blood from the floor that has dripped from a cut on Owen's finger, she looks like Linda Blair in "The Exorcist." There's also a constant backdrop of talk about evil that wasn't in the original. Ronald Reagan can be heard talking about it on the TV news. And Owen's mother is a holy roller.
Also missing? Any sense of regret on Abby's part. Eli, for her part, did what she did because she had to, not because she enjoyed it. That's what set her apart from the bullies.
Such changes aren't just unnecessary, they're detrimental.
The title of both films refers to a bit of vampire lore: You can't let one into your home -- or, by extension, your heart -- without issuing the invitation out loud. "Let Me In" wants to make your flesh crawl, and it probably will. But it's unlikely to ever get under anyone's skin, the way "Let the Right One In" did.
Contains strong gore and violence, obscenity, brief sensuality and a flash of nudity.