This vampire tale takes an eternity to bleed out.
By Jared Peterson
Upon first seeing 12-year-old Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee)—small, reed thin and proto-pubescent—one can be forgiven for thinking, “I’ll bet this kid catches hell at school.” Sure enough, a group of toughs led by a seething, wolf-eyed classmate named Kenny (Dylan Minnette), have him in their sights, doling out savage wedgies and chillingly convincing death threats in classic bully style—which is to say, for no reason at all. Owen is a child of divorce, a quiet kid and a loner. But he has also developed a fascination with knives, with which he stabs at inanimate objects or uses to play out Travis-Bickle-style revenge fantasies in front of the mirror—signs that his troubles go much deeper.
When a young girl named Abby (Chloe Moretz, “Hit Girl” from Kick-Ass) arrives one night in Owen’s apartment complex—walking barefoot through the snow, accompanied by a dour, creepy man (championship character actor Richard Jenkins) who would appear to be her father—Owen is transfixed. The two soon develop an awkward, crushy friendship. She encourages him to stand up to the bullies. She shares her love of games and puzzles. She leaves out the part about feeding on human blood to survive.
Let Me In is a remake of sorts of the acclaimed Swedish-language film Let the Right One In; both are based on a 2004 novel by Swedish writer Ajvide Lindqvist. Director Matt Reeves (Cloverfield) focuses on the barely suppressed bloodlust of its characters, and not just the ravenous undead. One of the movie posters contains the tagline “Innocence Dies. Abby Doesn’t.” But the bullies’ inexplicable hatred and Owen’s percolating thirst for revenge demonstrate that innocence died long before the she arrived. Owen’s single mom (Cara Buono) is the sole embodiment of normal human emotion, but, notably, Reeves keeps her in the background. Her motherly concern and worry are heard, but her face remains barely visible except in murky reflections and half-shadows.
The “secret” that Abby is a vampire is barely a secret to begin with. I mean, let’s face it: these days, if a movie features teenagers, one of ‘em’s probably a vampire. And the sociology of the undead (they stop aging; they can’t go out in the daytime; you have to invite them in) is now common knowledge. But Reeves drags out the inevitable revelation, making us wait nearly an hour of screen time before Owen learns a truth we’ve known all along. The bulk of the film is spent in anticipatory silence and bathed in cold light. Bathed in cold light, the atmosphere nearly implodes on itself. By the time Team Owen has his final showdown with the schoolyard punks, it’s not hard to see how things will turn out.
What Let Me In lacks in genuine suspense, it more than makes up for in gruesome, violent imagery. Obviously, viewers should be prepared for a lot of blood. It pulses and spurts from the screaming victims of several savage vampire feedings. It flows steaming from the throat of a strung-up captive, to be drained and bottled for later consumption. (The wounds and deaths are all portrayed in great detail.) It oozes from Abby’s eyes, nose, mouth and pores, an example of the consequences of entering a home uninvited. And it trails artistically from the severed heads and limbs of people who have ticked Abby off. Owen draws some, too, when he strikes Kenny with a metal rod to the ear, or cuts into his own thumb for a blood oath with Abby. (Tip: Don’t do that with a vampire, even one who likes you.)
We also see, up close, a man burn himself with acid to avoid being identified by police; his agonizing moans and slurping breathing fill the soundtrack in several scenes. The unlucky victim of a vampire bite bursts into flames in a hospital bed, broiling a nearby nurse who was just trying to brighten the room. There’s a harrowing car crash filmed in a single shot from the inside the vehicle. A man jumps several stories to his death. Oh, and a wedgie never looked (or sounded) so painful.
A few characters use profanity, mostly f-words. A couple of people smoke cigarettes, and I think I spotted someone smoking marijuana. On the naughty front, Owen catches a glimpse of a pretty neighbor’s breasts through her open window. Owen and Abby share a couple of tame kisses. At one point, Abby doffs her bloody clothes—just off camera or in soft focus, with Owen looking away (but, still… uncomfortable)—and lies next to him in bed; later, we see a shot of him peeking through a crack in the bathroom door as she showers.
This film takes a largely undistinguished place among a slew of other, similarly moody supernatural thrillers. But if it’s blood you want, Let Me In might just be your type.
Jared Peterson last reviewed Nanny McPhee Returns.
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