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Let Me In
Starring Kodi Smit-McPhee and Chloe Moretz

CREEPY KID: Chloe Moretz, the cute girl next door, shows a sinister side in ‘Let Me In’—a vampire flick directed by Matt Reeves (‘Cloverfield’).

three stars

It’s been so long since I’ve seen a good “creeper”—the unsettling horror film that gets under the skin and lays eggs in the brain stem. “Let Me In,” a remake of the Scandinavian “Let the Right One In,” which itself is based on a book, is an interesting variation on the ever-popular vampire phenomenon. It’s one of those wonderful little fables—the kind of children’s story for which Struwwelpter is known (although, Struwwelpter would have called it “The Fearful Boy, the Bloodthirsty Little Girl, and the Man with the Acid Burnt Face“). The film focuses on children who are forced to choose between right and wrong. I think Struwwelpter may have been a little disappointed with how this story ends.

The best kind of horror films are ones where the filmmaker plays his cards close to the vest. Horror films can become so campy so quickly—a promising premise can turn into an absolute laughable mess. “Let Me In” is the kind of atmospheric terror-filled story that harkens back to films like “The Omen” (the original, not the terrible remake). Ther’s also touches from films like “Carrie” and “The Shining.” Notice I’m making comparisons to some classics. “Let Me In” could easily be included in a conversation with those greats, as it is arguably one of the best scary movies of the last decade.

The story follows a young boy named Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee). He’s a lonely kid—small for his age and bullied by some terrible little bastards at school. He lives at home with his tired, white-wine-swilling mother. The divorce has taken its toll. Owen doesn’t have much to look forward to—that is until he meets Abby (Chloe Moretz), the cute girl next door. Since she has moved in, the boring little apartment complex has become far more sinister. People are disappearing. Bodies are turning up. Abby and Owen are both lonely souls. In each other they find compassion and understanding, but their friendship becomes complicated when Owen learns that Abby is a vampire. Yes, a bloodsucking feral vampire who eats people’s faces like I eat a turkey pot pie.

Director Matt Reeves is an innovative guy. He does a fantastic job of creating this claustrophobic, snow-covered hell, which the characters inhabit. This is a violent, dark fable with very few punches pulled—an extremely graphic movie. But it needs to be. Ninety-five percent of the film is the potential threat of what lies beneath those glassy eyes and the cute smile. She is a killing machine, and the concept doesn’t work unless we see the monster inside.

Reeves’ other major talent is his ability to stage a seamless scene. His choices are inventive. He limits perspective in many scenes, like leaving the camera inside a car as it crashes into a guard rail and tumbles down a steep hill, or helping sell the idea of a non-existent mother by always having her just out of frame. This is somewhat surprising since his last film, “Cloverfield,” was a total gimmick-filled disaster. There are no gimmicks to “Let Me In.” It’s simple, effective storytelling, and the story is darker than a pail of coal.

The only time the movie fails is when Reeves gets playful with the effects. There are a few scenes augmented with computer-generated imagery that feel out of place.  So much effort has been spent crafting this visually rich landscape that the rather obvious effects shots stick out like a sore thumb. It’s a minor quip, but it speaks to Reeves’ major weakness as a director: an inability to lay off the pedal.  A movie like “Let Me In” would be great without the visual bells and whistles.  Perhaps it’s a lack of confidence in his own ability, or a belief that the audience couldn’t do without some kind of amped-up visuals. It’s unnecessary.

It amazes me how Reeves was able to take the source material and make something that feels unique. There is a little less bite to the American version. The film benefits from excellent casting. Chloe Moretz continues a spectacular run of performances that go back to last year’s “500 Days of Summer” and this year’s excellent “Kick-Ass.” She shows remarkable range for being 12; as far as kid actors go, she’s among the best.  But the film’s greatest performance is young Mr. Smit-McGhee (who should consider a name change). This kid does an almost impossible job of playing Owen. It reminded me a lot of what Haley Joel Osment did in “The Sixth Sense”—that level of anguish and loneliness that lingers around him like a cloud. It’s so rare for a kid this young to be capable of playing a character so filled with despair. A perfectly dark performance for a perfectly dark film—well, maybe not perfect but damn near close.

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