Director Matt Reeves was tasked impossibly with remaking a universally acclaimed horror masterpiece, Let The Right One In, for the American market. The original is sombre, pensive, sensitive, and artful - perhaps the most profound meditation on love, desire, ageing, adolescence, and evil, in all of the horror film canon - so the idea that a new version would have anything to add was obscene. Instead, Reeves has turned in an unusually sensitive reappraisal, which subtly readjusts the setting, and some of the scenes, without altering the themes, the mood, or the mise-en-scene.
The new version, Let Me In, has not been embraced by audiences - though it has made ten times as much as the art-house precedent. This is too bad, but perhaps inevitable - Let Me In is not just a horror movie, but a character study, and a potential love story (as signalled by the introduction of the Romeo and Juliet theme here) - and it unfolds at a solemn, almost funereal pace. Reeves directs with a commanding control of his style and allusions - the opening pays homage to that of Kubrick's The Shining, and early on, a nurse's reflection reminds us of the opening of Citizen Kane (a character who let no one in); his much-talked of use of Reagan's speech about evil is - as a boy coming of age at the same time (1983) as Owen the protagonist - beautifully resonant; and the setting in Los Alamos, that most symbolic of places (where America's awesome post-war power was secured and arguably perverted), stands in wonderfully for the original Nordic landscape - who knew it snowed in New Mexico?
Where Reeves revs things up is in the serial murders, which are now slightly less creepy if no less brutal and strange (though the vehicular disaster is well-done); and in the more obvious display of Abby's supernatural metamorphosis. Abby in the original was the dark Other, the immigrant to a blonde land, but here that is switched, so the boy is dark-haired, and the girl is fair. Also, the parents are now occluded, and exist mostly in shadow, out of frame, on the phone. The bullying is more effectively dramatised, and, in some ways, the exploration of pubescent sexual awakening is more openly admitted, as is the unsettling relationship between Abby and her grown-up helper. I can't imagine a better remake possible - the casting is superb, and Elias Koteas is especially good. The film is beautiful to watch, deeply upsetting and challenging, and also poignant. It remains a puzzle - one of the key tropes - perhaps unsolvable - the heart is no Rubik's Cube after all - about whether evil and good can co-exist, about the sacrifices that love requires, and about the rights of need and hunger. In one sense, the children are killers and should be stopped. In another, they are touchingly star-crossed friends.
In fact, they are both - and, like Bonnie and Clyde - their murderous transports are both rapturous and heinous. But the romance of crime and the bonds of those damaged in childhood, by abuse or neglect, often strong enough to sustain and empower the rankest of co-dependencies. A vampire's prerogative is to take life to keep their own quasi-life; but here, the cost to others is fully explored. Four Specs out of Five.