22: Let Me In (2010)
(I tend to be unconcerned about SPOILERS in these things, but since this film does have some element of a twist, SPOILER ALERT)
I admit that when I heard a remake of the 2008 Swedish film Let the Right One In was in the works, my first thought was, “Does this really have to be made?” That film, about the relationship between a troubled young boy and a girl who’s not really a girl but a vampire, is expertly made, layered with violence and love and tragedy, and contains a complicated emotional relationship at its core.
But all of those things also apply to Let Me In, the American remake adapted and directed by Matt Reeves. When we talk about cinematic adaptations or remakes, the discussion is often framed in what’s called “fidelity discourse”. We judge an adaptation by whether it’s “faithful” or “betrays” the original text, as if that original incarnation of the story is a pure, unblemished source that cannot be tampered with. And a remake must shoulder the burden of being “unoriginal”, as though the beats of the story are the only real work, and there is nothing to be said for any other element of cinematic craft. Let Me In, as a remake of a film that was adapted from a novel, faces a double burden.
This kind of scrutiny seems uniquely cinematic; cover songs as a concept are not as generally discredited as remakes are, and the variety of stage productions that emanate from a single dramatic text are viewed as a given. Yes, Let Me In has many plot points that map exactly to the Swedish film, as they tell the same basic story. And there are stylistic elements that have been borrowed from the earlier film, just as a cover song takes elements of the original — it’s in the new choices, in how the film unfolds as a collection of a multitude of different elements, that you find the artistic whole.
Some of the elisions that Reeves makes — removing the beat in the Swedish film that the vampire is really not even a girl vampire but a castrated boy vampire — could be seen as a sign of timidity and normalizing the narrative for mainstream America. But with the way Reeves tells this story, he makes a strong case for streamlining and tuning the relationship between Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee) and Abby (Chloë Moretz). Instead of the visceral shock of that gender reversal, Reeves replaces it with a beat in which Owen truly understands the ultimate fate of those that get close to Abby. It’s only one of the ways in which Reeves tells a story that’s inflected differently than its Swedish counterpart.
Matt Zoller Seitz’s close analysis of the kidnapping scene shows Reeves’s mastery of composition and pacing, which was evident in Cloverfield but somewhat hidden behind that film’s first-person visual conceit. Here, working from a more restrained baseline, the control Reeves has over the visual field is much clearer, and just one of the reasons why this film should be viewed as a companion to Let the Right One In, not a parasite.