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October 3, 2010

Hammer Films Month - Let Me In

(Note from The Mike: THEY'RE BAAAAAAACCCCCKKKK!!  Yes, Hammer Films just released its first film in over 30 years, and The Mike couldn't be happier.  Seeing their new logo - which is reminiscent of the Marvel logo; showing images (in this case, the likes of Christopher Lee as Dracula and Raquel Welch from One Hundred Million B.C.) behind the letters before they're filled in with red - had me fist-pumping in theater.  The film?  Let Me In, the remake of a beloved modern horror hit.  The results?  That's in the review....)

(2010, Directed by Matt Reeves.)

You know how sometimes you just sense that someone is near you?  Or, do you ever have those moments where you just "feel" something and turn around to find that someone behind you is looking at you?  It may seem like an extra sense, but - surprisingly - it's just part of your brain chemistry.  According to most research (at least the type that's shared at universities in the Midwestern USA) a small area of your brain known as the amygdala is responsible for this.  In fact, these groups of nuclei are said to be responsible for social cognition, helping a person recognize distance between himself and others while helping start an emotional response to these stimuli.  (In simple terms, it's the part of your brain that lets you know when you might need to freak out.)

I mention this only because young Owen (played by Kodi Smit-Mcphee of The Road) gives his amygdala one helluva workout in Let Me In.  Playing a socially awkward 12 year old who is often bullied at school and has a distant relationship with his mother (to make this more evident, her face is obscured from the camera throughout the film).  When he does meet someone new that doesn't judge him, it's because he realizes they're standing right behind him, watching him.  That new acquaintance is Abby (Kick-Ass star Chloe Grace Moretz) who has just moved into the apartment next door.  She shares the apartment with a paternal figure played by the wonderful Richard Jenkins, who we quickly learn is involved in a series of murders.  We know that he is trying to harvest the blood of the victims, and it quickly becomes evident that Abby has a strange diet.  Meanwhile, Owen spends a large amount of time trying to figure out the non-verbal cues he senses in his environment, and the film places significant weight on the proximity between characters and the power of physical touch.

If you've seen Let The Right One In - the film Let Me In is based off of (or read the book of the same title) - none of this comes as a surprise.  Yet this story carries the same power that its predecessor had, partially because this take on vampirism is such a unique tale.  The American version takes some liberties with the story (the setting is now New Mexico of 1983), and specifically enhances its focus on the concept of good vs. evil.  Then President Ronald Reagan is featured giving a speech about the good and evil forces in his country, and the mother's religious beliefs are an obvious influence on young Owen.  As Abby's true nature is revealed, that V word that Bram Stoker made famous is never mentioned.  Owen just wants to know if she's evil.

(By the way, this is totally the first time I've ever made the biblical connection about the fact that a vampire must be invited in to one's home.  It makes perfect sense, though.  Like Adam and Eve, it's a situation where evil forces can not act on you, you have to let them in (hence, the title!) to your life.  I'm sure this was probably one of the intentions of that point in vampire folklore, but I never once considered it until today.  The More You Know, I guess.)

There isn't much of a physical battle between good and evil in Let Me In.  In fact, considering the overuse of Romeo and Juliet as a symbol in the film's romantic plot, I'd say Good and Evil are represented kind of like the Montagues and Capulets.  Owen and Abby's bond - and the differences between them that threaten to keep them apart - is certainly the crux of this film.  The film doesn't really aim to point out which side is right, it aims to point out the difficulties that people on different sides have when they make a connection.  There's a bit of bloodletting to keep it squirmy - this certainly ain't Twilight - and the film offers some great images of Abby and "The Father" in their predatory states to keep the tension level up.

In general, Let Me In is a very good horror film.  Director Matt Reeves, graduating from the handheld camera school at which he made Cloverfield, seems to have control of the film and really paints a beautiful picture while using drab sets.  Colors seem to pop off the screen a little more than they did in the original - an understandably American trait - but the film never becomes the type of flashy and spastic horror we've come to expect in today's American horror climate.  There are, unfortunately, some truly terrible special effects and CGI scenes that detract from the film at moments, but it's nothing that the film can't overcome.

If I were to ask horror fans what their favorite horror film of the last decade was, I have few doubts that Let The Right One In would carry an extremely large percentage of votes.  Yet, I can sense Let Me In (which has already drawn critical praise) becoming a hit in these crowds, because it is simply too good at what it does to be ignored.  This vampire tale - like Romeo and Juliet, for example - has a rich enough base that it's open to other interpretations.  Reeves and the folks at Hammer (who have a bit of a history of reviving beloved vampire tales) lost a bit of the poetry of the original in translation, but have kept the story gripping and interesting.

Connections to other films aside, I have few problems with Let Me In.  Moretz and Smit-Mcphee are both excellent as the leads, and the support of veterans like Jenkins and Elias Koteas only enhances the experience.  Michael Giacchino provides a fine musical score, and the camerawork of Greig Fraser is top-notch.  Hammer put together a wonderful team to relive this tale, and the result is one of the most effective horror films of the year, remake or not.

(P.S. - If you sense something behind you; something that tells you there's a problem with this remake: it's probably just your amygdala overreacting.)


The Man-Cave said...

Glad to read another positive review on the remake. My budget is already taken up by Hatchet 2, multiple haunted attractions and other horror films, so I will have to wait to see it on B-R when it is released. I had no intentions to see it before, because I love the original and the book so much, but I have softened my stance after reading reviews like yours.

New Mexico, huh?

The Mike said...

Yeah, it's definitely better than I'd expect. This isn't a redefining remake like The Thing or Dawn of the Dead, but at least it's not a Psycho remake or anything like that. It's really a fine film.

And, I must say, I never thought it snowed this much in New Mexico, because the sets look almost exactly like the orig.