Thursday, October 21, 2010

Let Me In

Spoiler alert-o-meter: Mild to medium spoiler alerts ahead.

In Matt Reeve's Let Me In a 12-year-old boy, Owen, living through a snow-filled Los Alamos winter with his not-quite-there mother, falls for a beautiful new neighbor girl, Abby. Abby's different. She walks around in the snow wearing a simple black skirt and no shoes. She completes a Rubik’s Cube in a snap. She doesn’t go to school. She’s been, as she says, “12 for a very long time.” Okay, no secret—she’s a vampire, doomed to live an eternal life as a blood-eater.

So how do you make a compelling vampire movie when pop culture is saturated with all things vampire? You set the story in 1983, make your vampire a young girl (played by Kick Ass’ Chloe Moretz, looking pouty, knowing, and almost demure), and make it as much about the loneliness of the boy as the plight of the vampire.

Let Me In adds nothing new to the lengthy and apparently uninterruptible pantheon of cinematic vampire lore. All of the classic tropes are here: the drinking of the human blood to survive, the only-go-out-at-night thing, the wandering the earth with a smitten human assistant facilitating the next meal.

Kodi Smit-McPhee plays Owen. In The Road, Smit-McPhee was sullen and natural, carrying the "fire" through the desolation. Here he’s a small, shy, and defenseless kid with a bad haircut who is all but designed to get picked on relentlessly by a troop of bullies at school. As solace he carries a knife and acts out scenes of revenge by stabbing trees. Owen also spies on his neighbors across the apartment complex courtyard through his telescope. We can plainly see that Owen longs for a life away from his stifling apartment, and from his mother who is either working, off to religious-group meetings, or getting soused in front of the TV.

Owen and Abby start hanging out regularly in the evenings. Owen asks her at one point if this means they’re going steady. She has told him that she doesn’t make friends, but she takes pity on the kid while growing genuinely fond of him. He buys her his favorite candy and she accepts a piece, but can’t keep it down because it was made with corn syrup and not, you know, human blood.

Meanwhile, the guardian Abby lives with (played by Richard Jenkins as the ultimate beleaguered male) goes out at night and kills off some of the locals so she’ll have sustenance and won’t have to do the dirty work herself. Although, when he screws up this task, Abby is plenty capable of dispatching hapless humans all by her lonesome. In effective night-time sequences we plainly see that Abby strikes with the speed and precision of a piranha. But don’t take it personally. A girl vampire’s gotta do what a girl vampire’s gotta do.

Hanging out with a kick ass vampire lifts Owen's spirits and teaches him some self preservation techniques. The next time the group of bullies corners him, he fights back, hitting one of them with a metal stick. Meanwhile, due to all the mutilated bodies turning up around town, the local police are starting to wonder what kind of satanic cult has moved into town.

The setting, snow-bound New Mexico, adds to the already chilly subject matter. Although, why Los Alamos? And setting the film in the year 1983 has nothing to do with the story, except hint at a kinder, gentler time, which lends itself to the initially laconic introduction of characters and events. I really appreciated the fact that the filmmakers took their time easing into this story. They take measures to set a tone and atmosphere which go a long way to making this movie a success.

While the acting is believable, Chloe Moretz has a long line of cinematic vampires to best, and she can’t—no actor can—so she just reads her lines, looks like she has a secret that, once revealed to a normal human, let’s him in. For better or worse. I saw the ending coming before the one hour mark. But I still enjoyed seeing how they got there.

What’s a vampire movie without some violence? The film builds up to the scenes of inevitable violence and confrontation well, and effectively put me into the moment. In one scene, Abby's guardian steals a car with his latest victim fresh in the passenger seat. He is caught, panics, and drives away from a gas station—backwards.

Suddenly, an average moment, another vampire trope, becomes a disorienting and unique filmic set piece as the audience is put in the backseat while the car turns the characters’ world literally backwards and upside down. Later, during the inevitable showdown/revenge scenes, Owen is held underwater as a mini massacre goes on above him. We see what he does, (a head sink past, a body pulled through the water from an unseen hand, the muffled screams and shouts above) and again the film gets the bloody point across without spilling truck-fulls of fake blood. (Although, to be clear, this is R-rated stuff, and plenty gory.)

I’m not sure I loved the ending (a kid sitting behind me said, “I fucking hate the way that ended,” as she and her friends filed out), but as I said, it was inevitable. What have we learned? Nothing new (especially considering this is a remake of another vampire movie, Let the Right One In), but we’ll always have younger actors ready (or should I say, thirsty) to play a vampire. Stylish and nasty, sad as these tales must be, Let Me In gives you a building payoff during a shivery, entertaining night at the picture show.


Theater location: Lowell Showcase, Tuesday night bargain show. Price $6.00. Viewed with JW.

Coming Attractions:

Saw 3D: Oy. A trailer that touts its technology over its story obviously knows which of the movie’s strong points (no pun intended!) to highlight.  

Paranormal Activity 2: Oy. The first one was unscary. This trailer hints at the addition of a baby. Very unscary.

The Warrior's Way: "An Asian warrior assassin finds peace, contentment and perhaps love in a forgotten western town on the edge of the desert but is then faced with...?" This looks like a cross between How the West Was Won, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, and some sci-fi. But don't ask me to explain it. 

Skyline: Unfriendly aliens land. Pinch me.


Robin said...

Dell -- This is a beautifully written review and I like your showing us how the gradual unfolding of setting, characters and story enhances the film. Not sure I'll go see this, but I'm definitely intrigued after reading your blog!

Laurie Smith Murphy said...

Love the short disposable films! What a creative idea. I can't decide which is my favorite. They are all incredible. Thanks for sharing, Dell!