Wednesday, October 06, 2010

This time, they let the wrong one out

Believe me, it really brings me no pleasure at all to be kicking a dog when it's clearly down ($5 million in week one ... I didn't see that coming ... sheesh), but I've had a burning opinion about Matt Reeves' "Let Me In" that runs counter to all the critical praise I've been reading about it, so I just have to let it out.

Now, before I lay into it, please know that though I'm one of the many people who have nothing but big love for "Let the Right One In," the Swedish movie by director Tomas Alfredson, I certainly went into Reeves' take with more than an open mind. I had let the hype - through trailers, pictures, etc., - get me psyched for this, which just made it more of a failure when I finally got to see it.

And the real problem - and why this certainly should never have been made in the first place - is that Reeves really would have been damned no matter which way he decided to go with this.

Had he somehow turned this into a "Twilight" kind of affair, with older kids and more romance (as I'm sure some idiots at least asked him to do), this would have been an unmitigated disaster. As it is, he was, if anything, far too reverent of the original work, turning this far too often into just a shot-for-shot remake, making it all the more unnecessary.

Which is a shame because, when he has the courage to show it, Reeves often has a sure hand as a director. At moments in "Let the Right One In," there are things going on in the background that demand your attention and pay it off, but those are unfortunately outweighed by the simple imitation of Alfredson's work, and in almost every case it's a pale imitation at that.

By the time it gets to the end - and I won't spoil it any more for anyone who somehow hasn't seen either of these movies than by saying simply "pool" and "train" - you (or at least I) are left with the strongest sense that you've seen this all before, and done much better.

And unfortunately, except for focusing in even tighter on the kids at the story's core (more on that later), almost every change Reeves was brave enough to make was the wrong move.

First and foremost, his movie almost completely lacks in sense of place, one of the definite strong suits of "Let the Right One In." In the original, the bleak Swedish winter was used to tremendous effect to subtly amplify the isolation of Oskar and Eli. In Reeves' movie, however, apart from establishing that it is indeed awfully cold in Los Alamos, N.M., in the winter, this is almost completely lost, in large part due to the thoroughly obtrusive (and, although I'm well aware I'm repeating myself here, unnecessary) score by Michael Giacchino. When it isn't telegraphing what's coming next, it's simply eliminating any of the ethereal feel - often conveyed by silence - that enveloped the original movie.

And this lack of sense of place also extends to the supporting characters who populated the suburb of Stockholm. In "Let the Right One In," we not only meet this band of beaten-down survivors, but get to know them at least a bit. This made Eli's brutal attacks hit all the more harder. In Reeves' movie, however, we know almost nothing about the residents of Owen's (the American Oskar) neighborhood except for that he likes to watch them with his telescope, and that drains any emotional heft from what Abby (the American Eli) has to do to them to survive.

Which brings me to by final peeve with what Mr. Reeves has done here before, I promise, I will have something good to say about it too. When we finally see Abby (Chloe Grace Moretz) go on the hunt for blood, any real horror is almost completely mitigated by the cheesy, cheesy, cheesy (did I mention cheesy) CGI that Reeves chooses to employ. The attacks look so fake that I found myself laughing out loud, surely not the reaction that Reeves intended (or that the people around me who shot me glares wanted to hear.)

OK, like I said, I really did go into this with both an open mind and heart, and there certainly are some good things about Reeves' take too, and they all come down to the two kids at the story's core, played to nothing less than perfection by Moretz and Kodi Smit-McPhee. I can say without exaggeration that we are enjoying a rather remarkably strong class of young actors in movies these days, and these two should be at the forefront of that wave for many years to come.

Reeves' choice to focus in tighter on the relationship of Abby and Owen is rewarded by his young stars in almost every scene when they're alone together. Moretz and Smit-McPhee expertly map the range of emotions that each child feels, Abby from hesitancy to desperation and Owen in the opposite direction, until their paths ultimately converge. Two scenes in particular, when Owen tries to introduce Abby to the pure joy of candy and when he still thinks the "you have to invite me in" thing is a game, show that - and I never thought I would say this - both Moretz and Smit-McPhee improve upon the already stellar performances by Lina Leandersson and Kåre Hedebrant in "Let The Right One In."

Richard Jenkins also brings a welcome weariness to the role of Abby's "father," but ultimately, it all goes for naught because the movie they've clearly all poured their best work into just never should have happened. In the end, while certainly not as bad as Gus Van Sant's shot-for-shot take on "Psycho," Matt Reeves' "Let Me In" is yet another American remake of a superior film that, despite some outstanding acting, just had no business ever being made (and in case anyone's wondering, yes, I do have as much respect and affection for "Let the Right One In" as many more people have for Alfred Hitchcock's best movies.)


Bob said...

This was a really interesting review. You and Justin were the two people besides myself that I knew really liked the original AND wanted to see this, even though all 3 of us agreed that it didn't need to be made.
I liked that you focused on the sense of place because that was essential to the original. That was one of the most atmospheric movies of the past few years and without that then I'd imagine it would lose a lot and you've just confirmed that.
My problem with the original movie was that it seemed like it wanted us to just let Eli off the hook for murdering people. I get she's a vampire, it's her nature, whatever. But it seemed like we were just supposed to think it was okay. Does this version have that same feel? I almost feel like if anything they'd try to make us even want her to kill people this time around.
Glad to hear the kids did well. Everybody knows Moretz from "Kick-Ass" but I hope Smit-McPhee gets some recognition since he was so fantastic in "The Road," a movie that did sense of place about as good as any I've ever seen.

jeremy said...

I'm still intrigued, and your review definitely doesn't deter my . . . intriguination (tm). You know what scene really solidified the first one for me? The cat attack scene. I know its cheesy or whatever, but just that the movie was smart enough to pay homage to the camp nature of horror films made me buy into the story a bit more. So maybe smiling at the attack scenes is ok (even if your fellow movie goers didn't agree).

jeremy said...

P.S. Emma Stone as Mary Jane Watson is the best casting I've heard in a long time! She's more suited to the role than Dunst, I feel.

Reel Fanatic said...

In this version, Bob, they add more of a police hunt angle that adds import to Abby's attacks, but due to the fact that she's played by a kid (and this time the just astronomically talented Chloe Grace Moretz), you still feel inclined to let her off the hook (though that judgment is left up to each individual viewer, of course)

And I'm sad to report, Jeremy, that there are no cats to be found in "Let Me In" ... Though that would have indeed added to the shot-by-shot feel, it was a fun element that I loved in the original ... And Emma Stone (I almost wrote Emma Watson .. completely different) as Mary Jane? I originally saw no reason at all to do a Spider-Man reboot, but that alone almost makes it entirely worthwhile! ... Have you seen Easy-A yet? It's a hoot, and she's so fun to watch in it

Nell Minow said...

Agreed! What bothered me most about this version was its superfluity. You might appreciate this review from the Washington Post.

Reel Fanatic said...

Thanks for that, Nell .. he was especially right about the differences in character between Abby and Eli ... Though Moretz did at least as much as she could with what she was given, it's definitely a watered down take

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