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Let Me In

Most anyone who has seen it will tell you that the Swedish Let the Right One In is one of the best vampire films ever made, up there with George Romero’s Martin and Kathryn Bigelow’s Near Dark. Of course, it hasn’t been seen all that widely in the US; Buffalo is only one of the cities where it never played during its theatrical run in October 2008.

Less than two years later the American remake is here in theaters, and for once they got it right. The only possible complaint fans of the original could have (aside from its very existence) is that it may be too faithful, a moot point for a mass audience that won’t know the difference.

In a grey suburb of Los Alamos, New Mexico (a suitably snowy substitute for Sweden), 12-year-old Owen (The Road’s Kodi Smit-McPhee) lives in an apartment flat with his mother. Depressed about his parent’s divorce, the slight, fragile boy is friendless and bullied at school. He strikes up a conversation in the courtyard with Abby (Chloë Grace Moretz, from Kick-Ass), the girl who just moved into the apartment next to his.

We know what he doesn’t, that she is a vampire whose “father” (Richard Jenkins, nearly unrecognizable) keeps her alive by killing strangers and bringing home their blood. Saying she is also 12—“more or less”—Abby bonds with Owen, despite having told him that “We can never be friends.”

Directed by Matt Reeves with more restraint than his virtuosic but unpleasant debut Cloverfield, Let Me In amplifies the original’s nature as the experiences of a solitary character: From a story that was minimally populated to begin with, it pares away some secondary characters and concentrates more on the factors repressing this pre-pubescent boy. Much of it plays like a fever dream, albeit a snowy one. The evening scenes are sepia-toned, the daylight ones, lit by a sun that is murky and uncertain, are dominated by blue—and inevitable flashes of red. (The gruesome scenes aren’t gratuitous, but they’re not muted either.)

Grippingly eerie, Let Me In carries you past some ambiguities that will weigh on you later. The biggest one from the original novel, a Swedish bestseller, has been mostly but not entirely removed: Is Abby actually a girl? Other ones are more unsettling: If Abby is 200 years old, how can she be so innocent? Is her interest in Owen genuine, or is she recruiting him? Is Owen a blossoming psychotic who has conjured her up to wreak his vengeance?

A protégé of J. J. Abrams, Reeves often hews so closely to the original that it can seem like a form of showing off. But his instincts for changes are pretty solid: A few digitally aided scenes are effectively creepy, and there’s a bravura car crash scene so good you don’t mind its intrusion. He errs, I think, only in adding a heavy-handed religious and political subtext to Owen’s life. But that’s a minor quibble: I doubt if a better horror film will show up in theaters anytime soon.

Watch the trailer for Let Me In

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