Truly outstanding acting, atmosphere, and writing are the core elements of what makes this remake of the already-fantastic Let the Right One In just as good as (if not better than) the original. I went into the theater expecting something merely okay, with certain elements of the original but not really worthy of comparison. What I was greeted with was an intelligent, scary, and genuinely touching tale of, ultimately, what human beings are willing to do for love.
Now, I will go on record here as saying that I believe that the original film, Let the Right One In, though a bit overrated, is easily one of the greatest horror films of all time. Granted, it's not really that scary; the scares came from the constantly suspenseful atmosphere, the almost complete lack of music, and some great and touching conversations (even though the average American viewer will definitely snicker at some of the lines). It was also a revolutionary film for the vampire horror subgenre; at a time when the Twilight series was sucking the life out of people's fascination with vampires (pun intended) by treating the fact that one of its main characters is a bloodsucker as a distant afterthought. Let the Right One In strutted onto the stage with something bold, new, and adventurous...and was ignored for its trouble. Further proof that generally, money, not quality, is what motivates Hollywood.
The writer and director of this remake, Matt Reeves, is best known for his controversial Blair Witch-Godzilla love child, Cloverfield. After such a thrilling, balls-to-the-wall disaster flick, Let the Right One In is probably the last movie one would attribute to him directing, let alone writing. But, lo and behold, he has done the impossible: he has (still on the record) IMPROVED ON THE ORIGINAL. No, your eyes do not deceive you. Let Me In is superior to Let the Right One In.
Now, I know this is hardly a popular opinion, so at least finish reading this before you start complaining to site moderators. There is absolutely nothing the original film does that the remake doesn't do better. Acting? Music? Direction? Actual horror? Check, check, check, and check. I can comfortably say that this was my favorite film of 2010 (and one of my all-time , including giants such as Inception, The King's Speech, Black Swan, and The Social Network, rivaling some of this year's Best Picture nominees in terms of pure quality of filmmaking.
Kodi Smit-McPhee stars as Owen, a 12-year-old boy who is leading an unenviable life in Los Alamos, New Mexico. His soon-to-be-divorced mother passes out drunk on a nightly basis, he is constantly bullied at school, and has no real friends to speak of. This forces him to spend his time doing homework, eating Now and Later candy, and spying on neighbors for occasional entertainment and boredom relief. The divorce thing is a change from the source material already, and a welcome one, as it adds more emotional weight to the boys situation, instantly making him a more sympathetic character.
One fateful night, he sees a tall, strange-looking man (Richard Jenkins) and a small girl (Chloe Moretz) enter his apartment complex. Naturally (supernaturally?), the murders begin, with an early duo of gruesome scenes that take the gore further than Let the Right One In ever did. Almost counterintuitively, the violence adds another emotional layer to the story, though one that doesn't come into play until later on. Oblivious, of course, to the fact that he is living next door to a pair of experienced killers, Owen befriends the innocent young girl; first, in a scene almost directly ripped out of the Swedish version, Abby warns him that she cannot be his friend. No reason for it, really, just that it's probably better that way. Their next interaction is one that will make your heart melt. I will not discuss it here, but suffice it to say that you know you would have said the same things, asked the same questions, as Owen does. All of which is immediately followed by Abby's first personal killing, establishing Owen's new friendship as a double-edged sword, as well as the friend herself.
The story plays out almost identically to the Swedish version for a while from here, with Owen devising a system of communication through walls so he and Abby can talk even when they cannot see each other, as well as following the exploits of the local sheriff (Elias Koteas). This is followed by the father going out to claim another victim to temporarily quench Abby's bloodlust, going awry in a well-executed car crash sequence, which leads back to the very beginning of the film.
Reeves manages some truly miraculous feats with the camera and actors around this point, even if the scenes are taken out of the Swedish original. There is one shot in particular of Owen opening the door to his apartment to visit Abby, all seen through a reflection on a TV screen displaying an old 80's intermission: "10:00 PM: do you know where your children are?" The children in question offer some dazzling performances. Chloe and Kodi have a chemistry all-too-rarely seen these days, and you can feel everything they do, even fifty feet away from the screen.
Speaking of cameras, the cinematography in this film is something to see. The colors blue and yellow feature prominently, with yellow being present when Abby and Owen are interacting face-to-face, and blue when some crisis is in progress. It's surprisingly subtle, but enough to be a noticeable device with which to tell the story. Further adding to the atmosphere is the soundtrack, a melancholy, subdued mix of strings and pianos that manages never to intrude on what is happening in front of your face. Hell, this score (courtesy of the reliable Michael Giacchino) is certainly Oscar-worthy, though the film itself is not something the Academy would notice even if it were already on top of them.
I know I've gone on a bit long with this one, but don't take my word for it. Just go rent it from Netflix and see for yourself. You might be surprised at what you find, as well as to feel that tear running down your cheek by the time the credits are rolling.