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Let Me In a chilling adaptation
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Kodi Smit-McPhee, left, and Chloe Grace Moretz star in "Let Me In." The film is an American remake of the Swedish film "Let the Right One In" that stays true to the power and mystery of its foreign counterpart. - photo by Overture Films

One of my greatest pet peeves is American remakes of great foreign films. I know there are people, probably plenty of you reading this, who simply don't enjoy reading subtitles. But I will never understand why it's better to watch an inferior remake just to avoid having to glance down to briefly read some dialogue.

When you listen to Andrea Bocelli sing, is the experience any less powerful because you don't speak Italian? Do you really need to understand French to understand the anguish and adoration in Edith Piaf's songs? No, those musical artists communicate stories and emotion that transcend language barriers.

Great movies do the same thing.

Each time a foreign film reaches a certain degree of box office success, you can bet Hollywood will swoop in, buy the rights, and remake the movie-and do it quickly in order to strike while the iron is hot.

And each time this happens, my stomach churns. Beyond all reason, I start hating the American remake before I even see it. This has become particularly aggravating and common during the past several years. As Hollywood develops fewer and fewer original ideas of its own, it increasingly cannibalizes foreign films to compensate.

The whole enterprise is an affront, a discouraging comment on an art form I love dearly.

I'm providing all of this background so you'll understand the magnitude of the compliment when I tell you this: "Let Me In" is a remake of the Swedish horror film "Let the Right One In," and the remake is nearly as good as the original. And if you remember, I named "Let the Right One In" one of the top 25 movies of the Aughts.

Director Matt Reeves has pulled off a minor miracle by making a film that honors the original yet carves out its own identity. He also retains the core of the story, which is the relationship between two alienated pre-teens.

Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is bullied ruthlessly at school then neglected by a mother who is reeling from a recent divorce. She is too depressed to provide the nurturing home Owen needs. Owen is a scared and lonely kid, at an age when he desperately needs companionship.

Abby (Chloë Grace Moretz), a similarly introverted 12-year old, moves into Owen's apartment complex with her father (Richard Jenkins). At least, we assume he is her father.

Owen and Abby quickly strike up an awkward, sweet friendship.

If you know nothing about this movie or its Swedish source material, it might surprise you to learn that this is a vampire movie. And that's what makes both movies so brilliant.

They could take out the vampire elements altogether and the film would work almost as well as a drama.

But Abby, who appears timid and withdrawn just like Owen, is a vampire. We soon learn that the man Abby lives with is not her father but a longtime companion who cares deeply for her and helps her find victims to sustain herself. It's a complex relationship to say the least.

Inevitably, people in the community go missing and bodies are found, which brings a detective (Elias Koteas) into the story. There are several scenes that play out more like what we expect from a vampire movie, so the film works on that level. It's a bit more subtle than most vampire movies, but the quiet moments make the violence all the more effective.

However, the scenes when Owen is bullied are much more terrifying than the vampire scenes, and even though the reasons for their alienation are totally different, Abby and Owen are simply two lost children who find something in each other that both of them need desperately.

It's a stunning achievement. Reeves and his cast take a production that could have become an embarrassing knockoff or run-of-the-mill scary kid movie and create a riveting, unwavering glare into the dark heart of American childhood.


Jeff Marker is a media studies professor at Gainesville State College.

 

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