Tuesday 2 November 2010

Another bite: "Let Me In"

It takes confidence to envision an Anglicised remake of Tomas Alfredson's Let the Right One In, the Swedish curio that was (generally; I discount my own thoughts momentarily) one of the most acclaimed horror features of recent years. Then again, when you're Matt Reeves, the writer-director coming off the back of the mega-hit Cloverfield, you probably have confidence to spare - not to mention all manner of producers willing to back whatever you want to try next. The challenge Reeves sets himself with his version, Let Me In, is a double one: not only to remake a film already beloved of the convention crowd, but as the lead-off production of the newly revived Hammer Films brand to boot, the latter showing no signs of changing its spots when it comes to recycling or simply rehashing pre-existing material.

So no pressure there, then. As it turns out, Reeves' reading is a sensitive one - reintroducing to the mix echoes and elements of Romeo and Juliet, present in John Ajvide Lindqvist's 2004 source novel - yet very American in other ways, making universal and mass-appeal what was once specific, and cherished for precisely that specificity; claiming its inspiration, if it hasn't already been done already, on behalf of anyone who might have been bullied at school in the early 1980s - in other words, that select group of freaks and geeks that now dictates so much of Western popular culture. Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee), our young hero, gets wedgies rather than his head forced down the toilet, yet still pees his pants, and in most other respects, the details of the plot are much the same.

Once again, the hero's interest is piqued by the new girl (and fellow outsider) moving into his fractured family's apartment block, here named Abby (and played by Kick-Ass's Chloe Moretz, for extra nerd-recognition value); once again, the pair bond over a Rubik's Cube - though Reeves feels obliged to underline his period setting twice over by playing Bowie and Boy George in the background of every other scene. Once again, our boy is baffled by the precise nature of his new friend, and the relationship she maintains with the weary old man (Richard Jenkins) she's set up home with. Continuity is further maintained through the retention of Alfredson's blue-yellow mood lighting, and some of the glacial pacing that turned me off first time round - although Reeves, by the very nature of the American remake, has occasionally to break this up with passenger-POV car crashes, deliberately jerky, odd-looking CGI, a more potent inferno than Alfredson ever considered lighting up, and an under-exercised Elias Koteas as a cop ineffectually padding round after the action.

The most obvious shift is one of idiom, away from Lindqvist and Alfredson's social realism towards something more closely resembling a teen movie: there are jocks and locker rooms, and - the one truly distinctive touch, such as it is - a spot of peeping at a comely neighbour through a telescope. Perhaps this was to be expected: Cloverfield had little to say about the world beyond what its young leads recorded on their videophones, and - given Hammer's investment - we shouldn't forget about the huge success of the Twilight franchise, which has served to make sexless teen bloodsuckers, well, sexy again at the box-office. In its favour is the suitably uncanny pairing of the skinny, Pob-like Smit-McPhee (almost unrecognisable from The Road) with the generally unreadable Moretz (in a subtler mode than Kick-Ass allowed for her). The two are more persuasive together - certainly more present - than their reticent predecessors, if a tad under-directed in the pivotal bedroom scene, which Reeves shoots in determined soft focus, where Alfredson was unabashedly Scandinavian; the terms of their agreement are also now set out in broad Americanisms ("gross", "go steady") that will be a matter of personal taste.

It's all faint praise, though, which is the best this version merits. I'd still maintain it's Lindqvist's novel, despite its flabby ending, that is the one (flawed) masterpiece to have emerged from this process of pop-cultural appropriation and regurgitation - an expression of profound sadness for not just its characters, but the entirety of the country they came out of. Its vampires and pederasts were the product of an institutionalised sickness - or ultra-liberalism, if you were feeling especially hardline. Strip that critical milieu away - as the first film did partially, and the remake does entirely - and all's we're left with is yet another cutesy-pie deal about a pair of puppylovers who, for whatever reason, cannot kiss. If you've seen and loved the Alfredson film, or even seen and weren't overly taken with the Alfredson film, I honestly don't know why you'd bother with Let Me In: Reeves is aware of the hallowed ground he's stamping over - which at least distinguishes this remake from all those Michael Bay-produced entries in this field - but at this late stage in development, its own footsteps scarcely leave a mark in the snow.

Let Me In opens in cinemas nationwide from Friday.

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