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.)