Friday, October 8, 2010

Reel Thoughts: The Boy Next Door

Heresy! How could they dare remake the icy Swedish hit Let the Right One In?! Well, guess what? They did, and it’s pretty great.

Let Me In, written and directed by Matt Reeves (Cloverfield) is both faithful and inventive. The location is moved to snowy 1983 Los Alamos, New Mexico, but the story remains the same. Lonely, bullied Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee) becomes fascinated with Abby (Chloe Moretz), the little girl who moves in next door with a man who may or may not be her father (Richard Jenkins). What he doesn’t know is that Abby is a bloodthirsty monster who hunts the neighbors unfortunate enough to cross her path when she’s hungry.

Reeves stages a couple of wordless scenes of supreme suspense and surprising pathos — you’ll be checking your backseat for weeks! You almost feel sorry for the hapless Jenkins as he stalks victims to feed Abby and fails spectacularly.


Smit-McPhee and Moretz are amazingly assured and involving performers, and Smit-McPhee captures the pain of growing up and suffering abuse at the hands of sadistic classmates, who call him “Little girl”. Recent gay teen suicides have made the danger he faces all too real.

While Owen and Abby’s relationship is presented as a tentative romance, Owen is also shown spying on his buff male neighbor as he works out. Interestingly enough, both the American and Swedish films removed aspects of pedophilia from the guardian/vampire relationship, and while both the Swedish Eli and the American Abby tell their friend, “I’m not a girl,” only the American version makes that statement explicitly about Abby’s non-human status. The Swedish film leaves it more ambiguous...

Moretz proves yet again why she is one of the smartest and most talented young actresses in Hollywood. She commands your attention and sympathy, even as you realize what a monster she is. Elias Koteas is effective as a police officer trying to make sense of the gruesome murders plaguing the area; in true small town fashion, he assumes it’s Satanists at work.


Let Me In creates a sense of palpable fear and dread, never stooping to spoon-feed the audience plot points. A simple photo booth filmstrip, for instance, speaks volumes. Reeves doesn’t sacrifice the original film’s somber, understated tone, but does improve on it with the quick flashes of brutal supernatural violence. The ending will haunt you as you imagine what the coming years will mean to the characters who are left.

If you want to be scared in an intelligent way, you should definitely heed the call to Let Me In.

UPDATE: Let Me In is now available on DVD and Blu-ray from Amazon.com.

Review by Neil Cohen, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Phoenix's Echo Magazine.

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