Director: Matt Reeves
Screenplay: Matt Reeves; based on screenplay & novel Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist
Cinematography: Greig Fraser; Editing: Stan Salfas
Production Design: Ford Wheeler; Set Decoration: Wendy Barnes; Costumes: Melissa Bruning; Score: Michael Giacchino
Stars: Kodi Smit-McPhee (Owen), Chloё Grace Moretz (Abby), Richard Jenkins (The Father), Elias Koteas (The Policeman), Dylan Minnette (Kenny), Ritchie Coster (Mr. Zoric), Cara Buono (Owen’s Mother)
Just when you think every last twist has been teased out of the vampire theme along comes an unexpected little sleeper like Let Me In, one of the most haunting horror films Hollywood has given us since The Ring. Only a derivative studio film could seem this original, so it’s no surprise to learn that like that movie, Let Me In is also a remake of a foreign film, Tomas Alfredson’s Let the Right One In of 2008, based on John Ajvide Lindqvist’s bestselling Swedish novel of the same name.
Fans of the original cult film were aghast when plans were announced for an American version and even more so to learn that the writer-director would be Matt Reeves, whose most notable prior credit was the alien invasion epic Cloverfield. That movie’s sensationalized, sledgehammer style seemed just about as far afield as you could get of the more subtle touch Let Me In called for. The belief that Hollywood would continue its long standing tradition of irreparably mangling the material in translation seemed a foregone conclusion.
When released, the remake instead became the best reviewed horror film of the year, and one of the most positively reviewed American movies of 2010 period, even landing on several critics’ top ten lists, indication of just how thoroughly Let Me In surpassed everyone’s expectations. Despite his spotty track record, Reeves delivered a thoughtful, disquieting, deceptively simple film that slowly creeps up on you. Like the best horror movies, Let Me In is a psychologically unsettling experience that gets under the skin, haunting you long after the final credits have rolled, and for reasons you might not be entirely certain of. It retains the supple power to suggest why the cult for the original felt so strongly toward it and protective of it, enough to vocally protest this competing version.
Let Me In is one of several relatively recent new horror films (including The Woman in Black) produced by the long defunct English production company Hammer Films, the same studio that itself helped resurrect the vampire movie with Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee in the ’50s. While it’s certainly in the grand tradition of Hammer horror, Let Me In had the misfortune of being released in the midst of the Twilight frenzy and the ascent in popularity of True Blood and The Vampire Diaries on TV. Audiences were glutted on a bevy of bloodsuckers at the time, so the movie came and went in theaters without really registering too deeply.
Considering that it was misleadingly marketed as a sensationalized vampire movie, it’s not really surprising that Let Me In failed to find its audience. The viewers who did turn out were likely disappointed by the lack of requisite horror movies thrills, and those who might have responded to the moody undercurrents and unconventional rhythms were warned off by the false advertising. It’s too somber and slow moving, full of stony silences and pregnant pauses to satisfy the standard horror connoisseur, but probably too glossy and gory to please fans of the even more subdued Swedish original.
The tone is so unusual for an American thriller that it’s obvious Let Me In couldn’t have been conceived in the Hollywood house style. More than likely, the emotional quietude and snowy, still air were carried over from their original Scandinavian source, where they’re something of a national characteristic. With its austerity, careful pacing and unusual themes (concerning the nature of true evil in a seemingly amoral world, personal culpability, lost innocence and how the concept of morality is relative, in the eye of the beholder), so far beyond the range of standard issue horror, one might be inclined to wonder if Let Me In were really intended as a thriller or if it were simply using the trappings of the genre as attractive tinsel.
It seems to be a horror film only as an afterthought, the way Val Lewton’s Curse of the Cat People, which Let Me In frequently evokes, was a horror movie only in the peripheral. Part vampire film, part coming of age drama, part pedophile fantasy, Let Me In uses vampirism as a framework on which to hang a perverse, strangely sweet love story. With its references to Romeo and Juliet and lovely, elegiac score by Michael Giacchino, which includes strains from Nino Rota’s classic theme, the film unfolds in terms of childhood fantasy for the most part, richly romantic, macabre fairytale.
Set in Los Alamos, New Mexico in 1983, Let Me In is about a mercilessly bullied little boy named Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee) who discovers that the girl next door he’s befriended (Chloё Grace Moretz) is actually a vampire. In its superficials, this premise would appear to bear great affinity to titles like The Little Vampire, My Babysitter’s a Vampire or Mom’s Got a Date with a Vampire, all of which likewise focus on the problems of prepubescent protagonists. But the somber Let Me In presents a darker, more disturbing and far more complex take on such unchallenging Disney fare. This R-rated film may be about children, but it’s certainly not intended for their consumption.
Director Reeves brought much from his own childhood growing up in the early ’80s to the script and intended Let Me In to be told from a child’s perspective (as indicated by the names of adult characters, which are treated in archetypal terms such as The Father, Owen’s Mother and The Policeman). The movie unfolds through the eyes of Owen for the most part, to reflect the fact that, to his mind, being the constant target of sadistic bullies is no less harrowing and terrifying than the supernatural horrors plaguing his community. His seems a world haunted by true evil long before Abby ever enters the picture. And it’s all the more upsetting because, unlike vampirism, it’s the sort of petty, everyday evil whose existence no one would deny, but which is permitted to persist unchecked all the same. In this respect, the movie puts me in mind of another Swedish release, Mikael Håfström’s 2003 Evil, which dealt with many of the same themes while going still further, using schoolyard bullying as an outright metaphor for fascism.
Let Me In presents a childhood in which wide eyed innocence can coexist with the most disillusioning adult brutality and perversity, same as the opposing forces of good and evil persistently war within Owen’s soul. On the cusp of puberty, his is also a world in which innocent sexual curiosity shares the same emotional space with far more mature, adult yearnings, such as Owen’s first glimmers of interest in the opposite sex. It’s a world where he can chastely ask Abby to go steady when she’s already lying naked next to him in bed and despite the sexual suggestiveness, the entire situation comes across seeming about as scandalous as a sleepover.
When he invites her to his secret basement hideaway, which was used by its previous tenant as a make-out pad, and Abby asks him “so what did you want to do down here?” his unprepared response (“Uhhh… close your eyes. Keep them closed.”) makes it clear he’s at a complete loss how to make the first move. The best idea he can come up with to escalate things further is to cut his finger, intending to make them blood brothers, commingling their fluids in a way entirely different from the one we had been set up to expect. The sign posted to this storage facility where they rendezvous reads ‘Enter under penalty of death,’ making it clear that they’ve trespassed into more mature realms where they really have no business. Owen’s hideaway becomes an off limits treehouse where they can sneak off to play doctor, and later conceal the other shameful secrets they don’t want adults to know about.
The movie’s more hair-raising moments run a strange parallel course with these amusingly infantile antics. Owen and Abby seem so sheltered in their way and there’s an unstressed, adolescent charm to their quirky, very childish interactions and courtship early on, before things get progressively darker. McPhee’s Owen in particular has a realistic, funny form of silly kid speak, which hits humorous high notes such as his wounded retort “Well who said I wanted to be your friend?” when a haunted Abby assures him they must keep their distance. His reactions to the everyday annoyances have a similar ring of truth which helps to ground this ethereal material in reality.
When his overprotective mother calls him inside just as he’s about to kiss Abby goodnight, for example, he betrays the typically embarrassed tween response, rolling his eyes heavenwards and grumbling a fed up “God!” under his breath. When he disgraces himself by almost instantly losing to Pac-Man at the arcade while trying to impress Abby with his skills, he lets fly a similarly childish rant with “God! I hate this game!” Offering to treat her to his favorite candy, he overeagerly opinions “Do you want some? They’re my favorite. They’re really, really good.” with all the lip smacking enthusiasm of an underage gourmet.
Like friend and co-producer J.J. Abrams’ Super 8, Reeves’ movie was heavily influenced by the ’80s films Steven Spielberg was making during the time period in which Let Me In is set. Specifically he strives for an otherworldly air similar to the ones coursing beneath the suburban tract conformity of Poltergeist and E.T. Reeves even sought out Spielberg’s advice to try and inveigle the secrets of his deft touch with child actors so evident in these early works. The best advice he received was to not be afraid to let his child stars guide him, rather than vice versa. He was trying to remember what it was like to be twelve Spielberg reminded him, whereas they were actually living it. His mentor’s tutelage paid off.
At heart, Let Me In is a variation on Spielberg’s E.T. in which a lonely little boy is befriended by an unearthly creature with whom he forges a profound mental, emotional and physical bond. Another child to play with when he’s lonely, Abby is the ideal companion for this scared little boy. She’s strong enough to protect Owen from bullies, pretty enough to fulfill his romantic longings, and someone to turn to when he has nowhere else to go. He may have conjured her from his imagination the way the lonely little Amy conjured Irena into being to serve as her imaginary friend in The Curse of the Cat People.
Like that film, Forbidden Games, Whistle Down the Wind, Spirit of the Beehive, My Life as a Dog, Hope and Glory, Let Me In is one of those rare movies that possess an unusually perceptive insight into the secret world of children. Full of irrational fears, petty crimes, ritualized social hierarchies, secret shames, blood sworn allegiances and dogged determination not to tell tales outside of school, it seems something insulated and removed from the workaday world of adults, a complete subculture that subsists beneath the notice of grownups. Abby and Owen even communicate through Morse code, their own private language that only they can understand. Of course subsisting beneath the notice of adults allows these children to get away with murder (literally), being too young and presumably innocent to be suspected of any wrongdoing.
There are clear suggestions that Abby is being abused by the man purporting to be her ‘father,’ which is partly what draws bullied Owen to her, making him believe that they’re kindred spirits. All the signs are there but it takes another child’s eyes to see them. They share this in common, along with the loneliness and attendant desire for companionship it breeds. After their falling out, each subsequently show up at the other’s doorstep, making it clear that both feel the other to be the only person they can turn to in a crisis. Owen stresses their special connection by telling Abby that she must give him permission to come into her apartment, same as she’d had him do out of necessity earlier. She is the only person he can fully ‘let in,’ open up to, invite into his closely guarded, private world. No wonder when Abby must leave, Owen feels even more abandoned and alone than he had before, as though he’d just lost his best friend.
The reason the two bond so deeply with one another is primarily because there are no grownups they can trust to be understanding of their unique situation. Owen tells his father on the phone that his mother isn’t there and, emotionally speaking, it’s true. Distracted, alcoholic and emotionally inaccessible, she’s a largely faceless entity, like those adults in Charlie Brown cartoons always speaking in a droning gibberish that made it clear their kids never bothered registering what they were actually saying. She’s overprotective without being truly mindful of where the real danger for her son might lie. Blinding herself to the obvious, she naively tells this boy who is being battered on a daily basis that “You have to be more careful, okay honey? I’d hate to see my baby get hurt.”
The fact that she doesn’t suspect that the cut on his face might have been the result of something more serious than the boyish roughhousing he ascribes it to, any more than she sees through his charade when he swears he hasn’t ruined his appetite by eating candy before dinner, or left the courtyard when he’s actually been out with Abby for hours, reveals much. Owen’s absent father is even less of a presence in his life than his mother, using his confused child’s long distance call as a means to further attack his estranged wife (“Is this from your mother? All her religious crap?”), assuming that she’s filling their son’s head with ideas about evil and morality to turn Owen against him, coerce him into believing his father is evil for abandoning the family.
Abby’s situation is even more dire. Whereas Owen has been abandoned emotionally by his parents, she is an orphan in fact. Upon introduction she’s the very image of an abused, neglected waif, trudging through the snow in her bare feet. After her ‘father’s’ demise, Abby continues squatting in their apartment like Jodie Foster in The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane, subsisting on her own without any adult supervision and rather than reporting the situation to social services, no one apart from Owen seems to take the slightest notice. The broadcast sign that pops up on the off air station asking “It’s 10pm. Do You Know Where Your Kids Are” is presented like a censure to all the neglectful adults in their lives. Let Me In is a movie that places itself squarely on the side of children, misguided, mixed up and murderous though they may be in the absence of any parental guidance to point them in the right direction.
Though the story has no doubt been bled of a certain measure of complexity in the translation, suppressing sexual themes and subject matter deemed unsuitable for the mindset of American audiences, there’s no real reward in comparing Let Me In to the foreign original when it makes far more fascinating comparison to itself. I’ve never watched a film that seemed to shift quite so drastically from one sitting to the next, completely changing our perspective on characters and situations. It’s a prepubescent Rashomon. Like The Sixth Sense and other cleverly structured horror movies that demand almost immediate reassessment the minute they wrap, Let Me In has been structured in such an emotionally elusive fashion that we feel as if we’d missed something the first time round.
For instance, when The Policeman looks out the hospital window after The Father jumps to his death, it’s only when the scene is replayed the second time that we’re shown what he doesn’t see, Abby standing in the shadows on the ledge right beside him. Let Me In can be read so many different ways, playing a game with its audience that forces us to reinterpret the actions and interactions of several different characters. By picture’s end we’re left feeling as manipulated as Owen does. Like gazing deep into a vampire’s eyes, Let Me In puts us under its hypnotic spell, playing into our preconceived notions and subtly maneuvering us into believing what it wants us to believe.
The entire film is predicated on things half-heard, half-glimpsed, half-understood, relationships misconstrued, people misjudged, confusing the already deeply conflicted Owen even further. The muffled conversations he overhears through the wall, which give him (and us) the entirely wrong idea about the relationship between Abby and her ‘father,’ recall Mia Farrow’s half waking dreams subconsciously inundated by the strange sounds emanating from the apartment next door in Rosemary’s Baby, another film about the evil that can lurk beneath a deceptively ordinary façade. When a seemingly embarrassed Abby asks him, for instance, if he could hear their arguing through the wall, Owen asks “Why was your dad so mad?,” assuming that the domineeringly masculine voice he heard belonged to her father.
The director keeps us as uncertain as Owen is about what we’re listening to and hence what exactly is going on, by intermixing the sound of Abby’s heavy breathing and deep, guttural utterances with her infuriated father’s, leaving us unsure about just where one leaves off and the other begins. Because we’re taken in by her innocent, helpless demeanor, we naturally assume the same as Owen, that she’s the one on the receiving end of the violence, while we read the worst intentions in her creepy, pedophilic ‘father.’ When she orders him off her bed and out of her room for instance, we take his initial refusal to budge as a sign of obstinacy. It’s only after blinking twice that we realize he’s listening to the jogger’s Walkman from earlier and simply didn’t hear what she was saying.
Let Me In plays this same structural sleight of hand at other points as well, such as when Owen taunts his own image in the mirror with “Hey little girl. Are you a little girl? Are you scared?” His disturbed behavior unsettles us because, with his mask and butcher knife, he seems to be imitating the unsavory likes of Michael Myers or Jason Voorhees or one of the numerous other slasher movie psychos so popular in the ’80s. Though we initially assume Owen to be the aggressor, same as he assumes Abby is a victim, we’re being purposely misled. When he reiterates this same play-act, after we’ve seen what he endures at school, our view of his behavior has shifted entirely. We no longer see him as predator but as prey. Rather than disturbingly misogynistic, we now see his taunts and threats for the sad expression of self hatred they are, this form of acting out an expression of a victimized Owen’s desire to take on the power claiming persona of his tormentors, so that he no longer feels so weak and passive.
It’s a psychological fact that children frequently become bullies out of fear of being bullied themselves, just as his chief tormentor Kenny (played with explosive iciness by Dylan Minnette), abused by his older brother at home in identical fashion, has taken on the dominant guise in persecuting Owen. It’s the trickle-down effect. When his cheek is slashed, Owen unconsciously reiterates the same fib Kenny orders him to, about accidentally cutting himself on the playground, showing us how completely under his thumb he is. On one hand we want to see the bully get his comeuppance, yet once we learn the source of his own aggression, that Kenny is more or less in the same straits as Owen himself, it serves to soften our sympathies. Because of this we’re ambivalent about the way he buys it at the end, as the movie intends us to be by showing his heart’s no longer in the bullying.
The first time Owen goes through this ritualized form of self abuse, it’s with mask full on to obscure his identity from himself, same as his true motivations are obscured from the audience. The mask he wears was actually molded from the face of actor Richard Jenkins, who plays Abby’s ‘father,’ making it clear that the movie wishes to establish a link between the two. By wearing this mask, and in doing so appropriating his features, Owen, who succeeds him as Abby’s new caretaker, threatens to grow into the same man The Father has become. Hence, when the two lock eyes across the courtyard, it’s really another mirror reflection, though we don’t fully realize it at the time either, because Owen’s eventual older self remains unrecognizable, ‘masked’ to his younger.
Their relationship begins with Owen buying Abby candy, and by movie’s end he’ll be offering to give her the sort of sustenance she really craves (“What do you want? You can have anything you want.”), just as her ‘father’ does now. The Father’s bungling attempts to secure Abby blood are so low rent and inept they may remind you of the clumsy murders in George Romero’s intriguing, is-he-or-isn’t-he 1976 flick Martin, which likewise let viewers decide for themselves about the nature of its vampire lead. Rather than supernatural, they seem the randomly senseless acts of a psychotic serial killer (complete with a slasher movie, trash bag mask to complete the picture) and perhaps all the creepier for being more closely linked to reality.
The first murder takes place in long shot to distance us emotionally, the camera placed outside the victim’s car at a railroad crossing as the train roars past, separating us further from the action. His last one is identical in m.o., but takes us inside the car itself, reminding us of the earlier scene for an instant, with a humorously macabre long shot from across the convenience store parking lot where the driver has stopped for gas, the unobservant patrons at the counter completely failing to notice the violence taking place in the rocking car just outside the window.
The director pulls another clever bait and switch here, when the intended victim unexpectedly stops to give a friend a lift. It’s now the killer who finds himself trapped, pinioned on the floor of the backseat, unable to either carry through with his plan or flee the scene. The expertly sustained suspense during this lengthy car ride is worthy of Hitchcock, to whom Reeves and editor Stan Salfas pay homage. We suddenly find ourselves manipulated into worrying for The Father’s safety rather than that of his potential victim, and hence feeling as complicit in his crime as Owen does Abby’s.
His childish panic upon finding himself cornered and assailed from all sides also serves as revelation, causing it to dawn on us exactly why The Father chooses the victims he does. The three high school boys who pursue him down the street as he absconds with their car seem the same sort of bullies that torment Owen, and likely made The Father’s life a similar living hell when he was Owen’s age, strengthening the similarity between them. Boys like these have become his offerings to Abby, bleeding them dry a means of paying her back for having rescued him from their cruelty. Even the penknife he uses to puncture their jugular is identical to the one Owen buys to defend himself.
All the same, The Father’s role as provider and protector has worn him down. He’s at the end of his tether and, as he states, maybe subconsciously wants to be caught, to be punished for his sins. He believes he deserves it for the wicked life he’s led, for having allowed himself to be corrupted by Abby’s evil influence, for having let her in. Having forfeited his soul and any semblance of a normal, fulfilling life, in order to trail Abby from one watering hole to the next, he’s been left a hollow, dried out husk of a man. Feeling him slipping away, Abby makes half hearted overtures, but it’s clear to him by this point she’s on the prowl for fresh blood.
No longer the boy he used to be, and hence no longer capable of satisfying her as he once was, all the life seems to have been drained out of him. So it’s fitting when, in his final swooning death throes on that window sill, The Father leans in, not for a kiss as we initially assume, but for an intimacy far more romantic than that. He’s presenting his neck to Abby, the last drops of his blood the final gift he can offer to sustain her for another night. And he appears to have found a certain measure of solace in no longer being able to invite her in. He’s prevented not by the strength of his will, but by the facial mutilation that makes mouthing the necessary words impossible now.
This John Doe who douses himself in hydrochloric acid so the police can’t identify him by face or fingerprints is said by the paramedics rushing him to the hospital to be in his mid-’50s which would place his original meeting with Abby somewhere around 1945. At least if he was the same age Owen is, which he looks to be from that yellowed picture we see of him as a bespectacled child. The implication is that their affair must have begun in much the same fashion as the one we’re now seeing blossom. Thus it’s painfully clear to him that he’s being replaced in her affections by the younger man, prompting his request “Please don’t see that boy again, ok?” The way Jenkins plays him, The Father comes across like Humbert Humbert, warning Lolita off a boy her own age that he perceives as a romantic threat, a rival for her affections. He’s jealous of her relationship with Owen in a way no ‘father’ should be and for reasons that won’t become entirely apparent until later.
But really he shouldn’t worry. His own bitter experience has taught him that their feelings won’t last forever. When the first flush of romance fades, as Owen keeps getting older, losing the aura of innocence that first drew Abby to him, and he begins to resent her for having to kill to constantly replenish her store, we can be in no doubt that their rancid affair will end just as sourly as her current one does. Thus, Abby will be forced to search for a new guardian, starting the process all over again. Though we don’t realize it at the time, trailing The Father around in his final days serves as foreshadowing, offering us insight into Owen’s own sad fate. The movie ends with Owen humming the same refrain we’d heard him singing at the beginning, which would certainly tend to suggest that nothing has really changed, that the cycle is simply repeating itself all over again.
Owen uses the snow to conceal the wrappers of all those ill gotten candies he’s consumed, same as The Father will bury evidence of Abby’s crimes beneath the icy lake, indication of how little white lies can spiral out of control into great big ones. The relative scale of each man’s transgressions are weighed against one another when both their crimes unfold simultaneously on the frozen pond. Owen allows his evil impulses to surface, as Abby had encouraged, by clocking Kenny in the head, just as the body her ‘father’ had hastily sunk is discovered. Owen’s mother assures the principal, who’s forced to reprimand him for the first time, that “he’s a good boy. He really is,” but his preceding actions have begun to raise serious doubts in our minds. By not turning the other cheek again, the movie wants viewers to ponder if Owen hasn’t in fact accepted evil into his own heart.
Reeve’s script doesn’t want to paint things in simplistic blacks and whites. Instead we’re given characters that aren’t purely good or bad, but rather subsist in morally ambiguous shades of gray. Just as the Blue Oyster Cult song “Burnin’ for You” (heard playing on the car radio during the second murder), maintains ‘I’m not the one to tell you what’s wrong or what’s right.’ Consequently, Let Me In intends us to question whether society’s notion of ‘evil’ is actually a relative concept, since the killings we would normally construe as such are committed here either for food, out of necessity or in self defense. Because of this, neither Abby nor Owen, despite the moral connotations of their crimes, seem truly evil to us, but forced to resort to these desperate measures, just as the frantic Father is forced by circumstances to resort to his.
The Policeman’s assumption that The Father is a Satanist is based on the belief that he does the bidding of The Evil One, but the movie likewise leaves us to decide for ourselves whether Abby truly represents evil or not. Let Me In is a coming of age story concerned not only with the burgeoning growing pains Owen is experiencing, but the much more confusing feelings her presence stirs up. Contemplating the nature of wickedness, he asks “Do you think there’s such a thing as evil? Can people be evil?” Wavering between the desire to be good and his own inclinations toward evil, we wait with bated breath to see whether Owen will eventually light on the side of the angels. Commentators have pointed out how, despite the pandering to their largely teenage fan base with extreme violence and gratuitous sex, the slasher franchises that rose to popularity in the conservative ’80s were, paradoxically, among the most moral of movie genres because just about everyone who bit the dust was first shown to have transgressed in some fashion, thereby warranting their fate. Usually this was brought about by having sex (the cardinal rule of the genre was that virgins always survived). Questions concerning morality itself lie at the very heart of Let Me In.
The heavily moralistic, Puritanical streak which has characterized Scandinavian cinema since the silent days still makes itself felt in this adaptation of the Swedish original, with its stern, Biblical “eye for an ear” sense of balancing the scales. Interestingly, one of the horror classics screened by the moviemakers, in preparation for this film, was The Exorcist, which dealt with similarly oppressive religious themes and starred Max von Sydow, himself one of the legends of Swedish cinema. The influence of that dour film can certainly be felt in this tale of another seemingly innocent little girl apparently beset by evil forces.
The director has stated that he set the film in the early ’80s to tap into the atmosphere of Cold War paranoia that dominated the arms buildup, a time during which the Reagan administration was depicting evil as being something that dwelt outside the safe confines of America’s borders. It was something embodied by the atheistic Soviets somewhere over there, rather than a facet that quietly coexists within the soul of everyone. Reagan addresses the topic over TV (“There is sin and evil in the world and we’re enjoined by scripture and the Lord Jesus to oppose it with all our might. Our nation too has a legacy of evil with which it must deal. The glory of this land has been its capacity for transcending the moral evils of our past…America is good, and if America ever ceases to be good…” he trails offs), setting the stage for what is to become a modern morality play in which the forces of darkness are depicted as trying to claim Owen for their own.
Let Me In is really about Owen’s corruption, his loss of innocence through contact with Abby. His life is dominated by severe and forbidding religious imagery, such as Reagan’s “Evil Empire” speech, his zealous mother’s prayer over dinner “Bless us oh lord for these thy gifts we are about to receive. Please guide and direct us through all of our days and protect us from evil,” the pledge of allegiance the children recite in school, “One nation under God,” that serve as a constant reproach to be good. To his confused mind inundated with such mixed signals, he’s already inherently evil. His conscience gnaws at him over the little white lies and petty crimes he commits on a daily basis, such as lying about spoiling his dinner, or stealing money from his mother’s purse while her portrait of Christ glowers down on him disapprovingly.
So how guilty this child must feel at all the havoc unwittingly wrought as his petty crimes grow to more and more monstrous proportions, forcing him to grapple with moral and ethical issues far beyond his maturity level. While not directly involved, he feels personally responsible for instigating Abby’s attack on his neighbor after he drives her into a feeding frenzy by cutting his finger, her wholesale massacre of the bullies who pick on him, and for the death of The Policeman, after he gives their game away by stepping on that creaky floorboard.
A symbol of law and order, The Policeman character played by Elias Koteas was inserted into proceedings to serve as the movie’s moral barometer, so when Owen shuts the door in his face, rather than taking the hand reaching out to him for help, he’s really shutting the iron door on any hope of moral redemption for himself. He’s consciously accepted his new role as willing accomplice in Abby’s crimes, and in so doing forfeited his innocence forever. Having so thoroughly succumbed to his dark side, it’s no coincidence that when the gym coach, Mr. Zoric, subsequently happens across Owen, it’s with the telling remark “Speak of the devil!”
On the face of it, the title Let Me In simply refers to the well established lore that vampires have to be formally invited into a home before they can enter. In one disturbing scene, Abby walks into Owen’s apartment without being asked, in order to test this superstition, and begins to spontaneously spout blood from every pore. As the movie’s main motif however, a myriad other meanings could be wrung from the title, including associated religious beliefs regarding the danger of inviting evil spirits in by entertaining unclean thoughts, leaving oneself open to demonic attack, allowing the unwary to be possessed by Satan.
Surely this seems to be what the movie is hinting at in those shots preceding Abby’s initial arrival, where Owen uses his telescope to spy on the people in the apartments across the courtyard. Having already laid the groundwork with his stealing and lying, he appears to be further inviting evil in by coveting the muscles of one neighbor and having impure thoughts about another. Tellingly, the refracted light from the telescopic lens cast a glowing, yellow tinge to his eye identical to the unearthly shine we’ll later see in the vampire’s.
His wicked, peeping tom act seems to have left the door wide open for unclean spirits to enter, so it’s no coincidence that Abby will subsequently appear, unconsciously attracted to this abode, as vampires always are to accursed places, drawn by Owen’s dalliance with sin. Eventually he’ll invite evil into the sanctity of his own home when he gives Abby permission to enter, just as he’ll ultimately accept it into his heart by falling in love with her.
The courteous concept of being invited in, of waiting to be asked before you enter, is consistently flouted throughout in terms of aggressive or hostile characters violating one another’s privacy and personal space. Owen uses his telescope to infringe upon the private lives of his neighbors for example, causing the couple across the way to close their curtains. Undoubtedly his interest in Abby is piqued by the fact that her windows are taped over, denying him such prurient access.
The Father breaks into the cars of his victims by jimmying the locks, the bullies corner Owen in the locker room and in a bathroom stall when he’s in a similarly vulnerable state of half undress, The Policeman busts down Abby’s front door, then further intrudes upon her while she’s in repose in the bathtub, which her letter had specifically asked Owen not to do. In this horror film, encroaching upon other people’s space has been conceived as the cardinal sin. The vampire is just about the only person in the movie with the graciousness and good manners to wait and ask first, rather than just barging in.
The title of the original Swedish film was the even more suggestive Let the Right One In, referencing the latchkey kid notion about not opening the door to strangers when parents are away from home. Doing so could allow the wrong sort in, just as Owen seemingly does this child vampire, a wolf in sheep’s clothing. His harassment by bullies and abandonment at home by distracted parents caught up in a messy divorce has made him easy pickings for any self interested predator willing to show him the slightest attention. Owen has left himself open to attack from all quarters. He’s prone to letting all the wrong ones in.
Consequently, Abby finds it a simple matter to get into the head of this confused kid with such a fragile ego to begin with, twisting him around her finger without his ever fully realizing what’s happened. He’s a goner from the word go. But Owen is so closed off, surrounded by peers who ostracize and torment him and uncommunicative adults who both baby (The Policeman has Owen’s Mother send him into the other room so they can talk official business) and ignore him, he needs to let someone in for his own peace of mind. We’re left to wonder whether this vampire wasn’t really the right one for Owen to have opened himself up to after all. Like Abby, who must be accorded a formal invite before she can enter, Owen is the eternal outsider, peeping in windows on lives he hasn’t been invited into, eavesdropping on other people’s happiness and, as in Rear Window, seeing things he shouldn’t. Yet, while Owen and Abby both begin the movie on the outside, looking in, they end it trying to keep others out, prevent them from similarly intruding upon the sanctity of their own closely guarded happiness. When The Policeman knocks on Abby’s door for instance, we identify with her fear of answering it, the camera staying with her inside the apartment and following her to the peephole where she looks out, an action Owen himself will repeat later, with similar trepidation over the prospect of letting him in.
Owen’s burgeoning sexual interest is compounded by his complicated relationship with Abby, but an aspect of this, which was hinted at in the original movie and made explicit in the book on which it was based, has been deleted altogether from the mainstreamed Americanization. In Lindqvist’s novel, the androgynous little vampire actually turned out to be a neutered castrato, but here Abby’s lines concerning whether Owen would ‘still like her if she weren’t a girl’ and rejection of his proposal to go steady under the pretext that she’s ‘not a girl,’ have been taken out of their original context, yet still pulled forward verbatim, making precious little sense in the translation.
Little Owen may be ignorant of the connotations, but in our sexually aware times such declarations can only be interpreted one way. The script tries to make the words seem more generic and less specific, divorcing them from their original, finely shaded meaning, but this just leaves them sounding like hollow clichés. Better to have removed them entirely if this aspect of the story was to be expurgated for fear it would make audiences uncomfortable.
Owen’s sexual confusion should have become part and parcel of his other conflicts and moral hang ups but a greater problem arises by removing this backstory, since it completely divests the bullying he endures of its deeper significance. Owen is not just being picked on in the normal sense, he’s being sexually harassed by the bigger boys who have singled him out because he seems smaller, weaker, more feminine than they are. Consequently, Kenny refers to him derisively as a ‘little girl’ and Owen’s reticence to change clothes for swimming practice in front of them is ridiculed as validation of their belief that he doesn’t possess the necessary parts to differentiate the sexes.
Defending himself when cornered during the field trip, the only weapon to hand is a metal pole whose phallic symbolism is accentuated by Kenny‘s threat to “shove it up your ass,” before he definitively emasculates Owen by throwing him into a ‘hole’ in the ice. In finally fighting back, it’s no coincidence that Owen, who isn’t regarded as a ‘real’ boy by his tormentors, would reach for this suggestively shaped, rather impractical weapon (it’s bigger than he is), or that he would be compelled to buy that penknife, with its own connotations of penetration. In behaving like a ‘real’ boy for the first time, which in the terms of his tormentors means a delinquent and a tough guy, he’s subconsciously trying to appropriate those parts of himself that he’s been convinced by others are lacking.
The type of bullying Let Me In depicts seems more upsetting than the run of the mill variety because it contains this air of sexual menace, all of which seems to be foreshadowing and leading up to the final Crying Game-like reveal that’s been removed from proceedings. In its absence, the underlying reason behind the unmitigated brutality of the vampire’s final attack on these kids who persecute Owen because they see him as something less than a real boy lacks its proper resonances.
Kodi Smit-McPhee, who plays Owen, is paler than the ivory snow-skinned Abby (“I don’t really get cold.”), his whiteness likely meant to emphasize the character’s innocence and purity. He has the tremulous sensitivity of a young Lukas Haas, around the time he appeared in Witness and The Lady in White. It was in The Road (2009), trying to avoid becoming the main course for post-apocalyptic cannibals as Viggo Mortenson’s son, that McPhee had turned in a critically admired performance, grappling with issues concerning morality and evil not dissimilar to those his Owen must face here. However, the Australian child actor was cast by Reeves in Let Me In at the behest of The Road director, John Hillcoat, before the movie was even released, and it was a smart gamble. With his baby Barnabas Collins haircut, Owen is not unlike the leading character in the current animated feature Paranorman, for which McPhee provided the voice. Reeves is apparently attempting to fashion him in a similar guise as all those other spooked out, misunderstood misfits who prefer spending their days with dead people, like Haley Joel Osment in The Sixth Sense, Rory Culkin in Signs and Naomi Watt’s son in The Ring. The kicker is that Owen sees Abby as his chance at normalcy, his opportunity to prove he’s actually a regular guy, to get a girlfriend. When he lets her take a shower in his apartment, he hilariously puts on a make-out record to set the mood and starts behaving like a little lothario. Once she’s made a man of him, he’s no longer self conscious about shucking his clothes in front of all and sundry for swimming practice.
Let Me In opens with the enigma of who Abby is, with The Father’s scrawled note and The Policeman’s feverish inquiries by phone, but that’s a question it never gets around to satisfactorily resolving. This leaves Chloё Grace Moretz in a tough spot since she’s required to hold back from giving the audience as much as we’d prefer, prevented from coming across quite as emotionally accessible as we’d like her to be. She never fully lets us in, but this is a problem with the character as conceived, rather than the performance. That Chloё manages to evoke as much poignancy and empathy as she does is testament to the child’s qualities as an actress. This is an exquisitely graceful performance considering she’s playing a walking corpse.
Her Abby, who’s preoccupied with puzzles and fascinated by Owen’s Rubik’s Cube, remains a beguiling enigma to the audience, with the moviemakers piecing the picture together in a non-linear fashion, as if it were a jigsaw puzzle itself. Even after Owen believes he’s gotten wise to her, uncovered all her secrets, he’s still left in the relative dark concerning what Abby’s all about. Though he shares her vampiric obsession with unraveling codes and conundrums, he never has a clue how to connect the fragmented facets of personality she chooses to reveal to him.
As it does with the other characters, the movie keeps shifting our view of Abby, making her out to be angst ridden and misunderstood at certain points, then leading us to wonder in retrospect if we shouldn’t second guess everything we’ve seen. Just as Owen only hears her conversations through the wall at first, before he gets to know her, we only see Abby’s interactions with The Father from behind, or in shadows that conceal her features, leaving much of her face in darkness. So despite all our own assumptions and suspicions, we never get a definite take on Abby either, a feel for where she’s coming from or what her ulterior motives may be. Her blood-slicked character sort of slips away from you after the movie ends.
We’re left to make up our own minds concerning just how mercenary her actions actually are in snaring the susceptible Owen as a replacement for her former ‘father.’ In the early days of cinema, predatory screen women were called ‘vamps’ for short, a term derived from the notion of life draining vampires, and one that eventually evolved into what we now know as the femme fatale. It’s tempting to paint Abby, underage though she may be, in these same terms and to take Let Me In as a novel new spin on the Renfield story, one the movies haven’t really told us before.
If one ignores the deceptive lullaby structure, for instance, and they-try-to-tell-us-we’re-too-young sentiments, what you’re left with is a traditionally structured film noir, with a shrewd, conniving, controlling femme fatale leading a weak willed and utterly guileless member of the male species down the wayward path. On the second viewing, all Abby’s actions that we misread as being so innocent the first time around, can be seen in a completely different light. As she reveals to Owen on more than one occasion, she’s no helpless, innocent little girl, but a fully matured woman who’s lived many lives and knows exactly what she’s about. The fact that she managed to pull the wool over our eyes initially, as easily as she surreptitiously does everyone on screen, is testament to just how devious she is.
If she didn’t already have her cap set for Owen why would Abby care if she smelled good to him, allow him to court her in his juvenile fashion or try one of his favorite candies, well aware of the consequences, just so she won’t hurt his feelings? She plays into Owen’s burgeoning sexual interest, now that he’s approaching puberty, by leaving that Romeo and Juliet inspired note on the back of the candy wrapper, going on that first date, slipping into bed naked next to him. She even employs reverse psychology, telling him she really wants to be left alone when it’s actually she who goes out of her way to rendezvous at his designated play spot. She’s got this gullible kid’s head so turned around he believes he’s following her.
Abby’s a predator in more ways than one, proving herself a psychic vampire as much as a blood craving one by feeding off misfit Owen’s emotional neediness. She’s on the prowl for another subservient Renfield to serve as slave until he’s drained as dry as her former ‘father,’ and it’s shuddering to imagine how many other vulnerable boys in similar straits she’s got her claws into over the centuries. After she knocks on The Father’s hospital window and fails to gain entrance, she knocks on Owen’s, as if transferring her affections from one to the other. Bound to her emotionally and psychologically, these boys are made complicit accomplices in her crimes and ultimately sent out to do her dirty work for her, incriminating themselves on her behalf.
Like Patty McCormack in The Bad Seed, if Abby didn’t look like an innocent little girl with the face of an angel, she’d never be able to get away with the atrocities she commits. Surely that deep, demonic voice she affects when berating her ‘father’ for botching the bloodletting is the closest the film comes to revealing her monstrous true nature, the well concealed devil within. The way the movie has her come off, Abby is like those designing women in old movies who don’t reveal their real selves until they’re sure they’ve made their conquest and snagged their man, turning into nagging, harping shrews behind closed doors. Owen is so head over heels he’d forgive her anything, cover up anything, and that’s just the slavishly obedient sort she needs.
Being cannily told from Owen’s perspective, Let Me In seems swept away in the same euphoria of first love he’s experiencing. In his eyes, and the film’s, Abby can do no wrong because he loves her, inducing us to see her the same way he does, as the victim rather than the perpetrator of the crimes. During the initial viewing, were likewise inclined to forgive this soiled dove everything she does. Because she looks like a soft spoken, moist eyed little baby, with her heart shaped face and cherub’s lips, we don’t hold her accountable, the same way any court in the land would be loathe to prosecute her as an adult.
We can’t even condemn her for feeding off others since she’s compelled by the same ungovernable animal instincts that place humans on the menu of carnivores higher up the food chain. When Abby vamps out she’s like a feral wild child raised by wolves. Watching the movie over, however, knowing what’s coming and better attuned to subtleties of plot and circumstance, we can clearly see how easily we’ve been manipulated into siding with Abby in this way, as easily as she manipulates Owen into accepting his new menial position as slave compelled to do her bidding.
The brilliance of this little beaut of a movie is that this aspect, its most horrific, is left unstated, isn’t even apparent until later reflection. We want to believe Abby really is the misunderstood monster she presents herself as being, forced to do evil things through no fault of her own and her behavior toward Owen a sincere requital of his feelings for her. Instead she’s the Mephistophelian figure out to claim his soul as her own. She wants to possess him completely and once she’s inside there’s no getting her out.
At least that’s one way to see Abby, if we only want to read the worst intentions into her. However director Reeves seems as torn as Owen about how he wants us to perceive her. We’re left to wonder whether she is meant to be a positive force or an evil omen in his life, an angel or a demon or, depending on your perspective, a bit of both. The way the director pleads her case, the constantly driving snow (I had no idea it snowed this much in the desert), serves to bury the dead, covering the blood stains, seeming to purify her actions.
Abby’s arrival at the apartment complex is attended by the Gregorian chant of a choir of angels and when she develops stigmata after entering Owen’s apartment uninvited, it looks as if she’d suddenly been adorned with a crown of thorns, the wounds of Christ. Abby’s sudden, startling appearance when she first addresses Owen on the playground, makes it seem as though she’d materialized out of nowhere. She’s the answer to his silent prayers, ones the God his mother prays to over dinner every night didn’t seem to be hearing. In desperate need of a savior to deliver him from evil, he finds the prescient arrival of this earthbound snow angel a godsend.
As guilty as he feels for all the deaths he’s indirectly caused, and despite the penknife he keeps for protection (“What are you gonna do with that?” the bullies smirk), Owen doesn’t have it in him to kill. He needs her to go that extra distance, same as Kenny needs his slightly unhinged older brother to exact vengeance for him. When Owen is drug away to the pool by the bullies who plan to polish him off at the end, it’s in the same station and posture as The Policeman Abby killed earlier while he just stood by and watched, leading us to believe that he’s being punished in order to demonstrate that the wages of sin are death. Screaming for Abby to come back, inviting her in from out of the cold, he expresses the same paradoxical sentiments viewers must be feeling.
Returning when he calls as if she’d always been around, watching over him, keeping him from harm, just waiting to be summoned, Abby might be Owen’s own guardian angel. It seems only fitting then that he should return the favor by watching over her in the daylight hours. She knows he wouldn’t let her die (“What would have happened if I hadn’t invited you in? Would you have died?”- “I knew you wouldn’t let me.”), same as he knows, after she saves him at the pool, that she would never let him. As he looks up to her radiating an incandescent, heavenly light, his face betrays the beatific expression of religious rapture. The vampire who can’t bear to look upon a cross and melts when doused with holy water has been appropriated as an agent of divine intervention here. It’s just another way the movie toys with our preconceptions, forces us to see people and events in a different light.
It’s Abby, not Owen, who’s initially caught up in the fascination of Romeo and Juliet, noticing that he’s reading the play and leaving that paraphrased note on the back of his candy wrapper. Like Juliet, Abby too must defy her ‘Father’ in order to follow her heart, which may be why she responds so strongly to Shakespeare’s story, like many teenage girls, imagining her star crossed union as a modern day variation. Clad in a ruffled white dress that resembles a wedding gown, she’s shrouded like the Bride of Frankenstein and we can practically hear chapel bells ringing. Owen on the other hand thinks the play is boring, spending his time in English class studying Morse code instead. It’s not until after Abby agrees to go steady, and he experiences the first pangs of love himself, that he can begin to understand the emotion, and start reading Romeo and Juliet in earnest.
If Abby were truly meant to be deceptive she wouldn’t speak with such surprising candor, truthfully answering Owen’s question as to how she got up his second story window with “I flew,” only to be greeted with the incredulous reply “Yeah right.” She wouldn’t dread being rejected, once he discovers her secret, repeatedly trying to mentally prepare him with those assurances that she’s not your typical girl, nor dejectedly remind him when he walks out on her that she gave him fair warning, “I told you we couldn’t be friends.” It would’ve been a simple matter for Owen to keep her out if he’d wanted to, all he had to do was not invite her back in. It’s his decision to be willingly drawn into her world fully aware of what she is. When he chooses to do her bidding, it’s of his own free will.
Abby lets Owen leave her apartment, when she should probably kill him for knowing too much, experiencing a momentary glimmer of self doubt when she blocks his exit (“I wanna go. Are you gonna let me? What are you gonna do to me?” he challenges), and we can only assume that this is because she’s fallen in love with him despite herself, like cold-blooded Barbara Stanwyck does mark Fred MacMurray at the end of Double Indemnity. His innocence has reawakened dormant emotions she believed long dead. If she really and truly needed him to serve as another Renfield, if her very survival were dependent on his abject devotion, Abby could have bound Owen to her forever, through mesmerism or by force if necessary, yet she lets him go not wanting to enslave him in that way. She tries to keep her distance, even up and leaving altogether at the end there, fulfilling that introductory playground argument about who should vacate the premises (“It’s you again, huh? You know I really want to be left alone.” “So leave.” “You leave.” “I’ve lived here longer than you.”). And she returns only at his behest, when he calls her back. In truth, Owen seems to need Abby far more than she needs him.
If Abby were really seeking out someone for protection, it would make far more sense for her to latch onto an adult caretaker with pedophilic designs, as the character does in Lindqvist’s book. It’s not likely that a runaway kid traveling around with a conspicuous treasure chest is going to get far before attracting the attention of authorities. How does this scrawny kid who’s just enrolled in a strength training course lug her around with him anyway? Abby may want to start them young to get the maximum mileage out of her minions before their shelf life expires, but at his age Owen is incapable of supporting himself, renting a flat or securing her needed nourishment as we saw her previous ‘father’ doing. The movie pours its dewy eyed romanticism on us, with the elopement a bittersweet capper, but in the cold light of day the denouement doesn’t make much sense from the perspective of a vampire with her own best interests at heart.
Abby is unable to stop herself from falling in love with little boys over and over again down through the ages, unwittingly hurting people, as she does her ‘father,’ without any intentional malice aforethought. This obsessive compulsive creature of the night is caught in her own fixed pattern. She’s attracted to Owen’s innocence, what sets him apart from any of the other boys his age, that same purity she herself lost long ago. It must be what initially attracted her to The Father as well, before he grew up and lost the bloom of youth. It’s the Lolita story in reverse. Here it’s the girl who preys on little boys she’ll cool toward as they grow older. While Abby’s appearance has remained ageless and unwithered, her immortal soul has been so tainted over the years she’s become her own Portrait of Dorian Grey. She needs Owen to revivify her, not by drinking his blood, but by basking in his innocence; he makes her feel young again. So one would think Abby might be inclined to impart immortality upon Owen so that he’d always be the same age as her. That she doesn’t is indication that she wants to preserve his rare quality in amber for as long as possible. The irony is that by serving as her accomplice after the fact and aiding and abetting in her crimes, Owen, conversely, is being corrupted through his contact with Abby, his innocence seeping away at an unnatural rate. Morally rapid aged, there’s little doubt he’ll be left just as dessicated and self loathing as The Father was before him. Despite herself, psychologically, spiritually, emotionally, Abby will eventually drain Owen of everything but his blood. She’s a vampire; it’s the nature of the beast.
Released the same year as Let the Right One In, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008) was about a man who ages in reverse, from encephalitic old man to infant, and Let Me In is threaded through with similar themes concerning mortality and perversely out of synch age elements. Button was about lovers who, due to the title character’s unclassifiable medical condition, always seemed to be meeting at the wrong time in life to make a romantic liaison possible; he’d be too old and she’d be too young, or vice versa. For its part, Let Me In is about an eons old vampire who still looks like a little girl, unduly complicating viewers’ emotional response to Abby’s relationships with both her old man and the boy next door.
Abby claims to be twelve “More or less,” but as that picture that so freaks Owen out attests, she’s actually far older. The character suggests a variation on the accursed little abomination the young Kirsten Dunst played in Interview with a Vampire, perpetually tortured by her physically arrested state of being. It’s not clear if Abby is similarly frustrated at being forever trapped inside the body of an undeveloped baby or if she experiences a craving to grow up, to know the full joys of womanhood. If so, it does raise the question as to why she should still be so attracted to little boys when she herself, despite appearances to the contrary, is far from a child any longer.
The idea is akin to all those creepy stories circulating, such as in The Orphan (2009), of apparent ‘kids’ who actually turn out to be adult imposters in disguise. So that the romance doesn’t alienate us, the movie is careful never to let slip how long in the tooth Abby actually is (“How old are you really?” Owen prods at one point), so we have no problem believing she’s the twelve years old she purports to be. Because she looks just like another little kid, it’s easy to accept the director’s innocent view of Abby’s relationship with Owen rather than seeing it as that of a predatory grown up taking advantage of the vulnerability of a lonely little boy. It actually makes us more uncomfortable to see evidence that Abby’s relationship with The Father is anything but familial. We’re conditioned to assign blame when we see an adult male whose affection for a young girl is something other than fatherly, but it’s the child here who’s really the adult in disguise and the grown man who’s the emotionally arrested, sexually adolescent infant. Her minions grow old but never grow up, while she remains as physically arrested as they are emotionally.
Director-writer Reeves approaches the Abby character as though being turned into a vampire had suspended her in mid-maturation, mentally and emotionally, as well as physically. Despite her unnaturally long life, he believes in her assertion that she’s still a twelve year old, “But… I’ve been twelve for a very long time.” Reeve’s unique approach would seem to make sense, even if it flies in the face of long-held lore and other cinematic takes on the subject. Let Me In adheres to established vampire superstitions concerning such matters as being invited in and the inexplicable, obsessive compulsive bent of bloodsuckers who are compelled to unravel knots and puzzles, while cavalierly discarding others (this vampire can even be photographed).
Abby says she needs blood to live and when we see her doubled over with hunger pains or hear Owen observe that she ‘smells funny,’ indication that her body is decaying, it seems to validate the movie’s assertion that she kills out of necessity rather than malevolence. For instance, before she impulsively attacks that neighbor lady the movie makes a point of showing her driven into a blind feeding frenzy by the scent of Owen’s blood. The director seems so determined to make it clear that she’s not to blame, it’s odd he didn’t turn her initial encounter with that jogger into the pedophilic pickup it seems to have been shaped to be. If the adult had tried to take advantage of the situation, he could have been shown as deserving of his death, in moralistic horror movie terms, absolving Abby even further. Instead, it’s the apparent victim who sees him as easy pickings. (After this murder, which ends with her snapping the jogger’s neck, the script has her mordantly referring to how she solved Owen’s Rubik’s Cube with a nonchalant “I just twisted it.”).
The final two attacks are both initiated by aggressive actions on the part of the victims, with The Policeman invading Abby’s secret sanctuary and the bullies trying to drown Owen. All the truly methodical, premeditated murders are committed by her minion. As the body count rises, missing person posters going up alongside makeshift memorials, the movie manipulates us into empathizing with the poor, put upon vampire by pushing those same qualities she herself uses to throw people off their guard, her youth, angelic looks and the apparent helplessness and innocence we associate with both. In her hoodie and bare feet, she resembles a disheveled street urchin and Abby purposely puts on this little lost soul act for the benefit of Owen and others, playing into adult assumptions that she’s helpless, asking the jogger to carry her, playing on their sympathies and maternal instincts. The movie’s real snow job is pulled on the audience.
Though many viewers had been taken with her as Hit Girl in the superhero satire Kick-Ass, released earlier in 2010, I first saw Chloё in Hugo last year, in which she befriended another troubled little boy. Her role in that excessively conservative Scorsese film was so conventional, I couldn’t see anything truly special in the actress at the time. Though she had some good lines, she was equally ill-used as a stoned, hippie werewolf in Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows last spring. The slinky role gave her a chance to demonstrate that she’s definitely growing up, but criminally included no inside references to her earlier appearance as a vampire in this film. It turns out Moretz has been racking up quite an impressive track record for a number of years. It was her Kick-Ass role which first brought her to the attention of Reeves however, for this equally offbeat project.
Evidently Reeves had not seen Kick-Ass at the time he cast Chloё in this film, which is surprising considering the striking similarities between Abby and the actress’ Hit Girl character. Again we see her deep attachment to a non-traditional single father with whom she plays a poignant death scene after he’s burned beyond recognition. She even flies from his window ledge to return home. Like Abby, Hit Girl also uses her youth and innocent looks to her advantage. Concealing her more lethal nature causes people to underestimate her and to lower their guard. When she enters the hospital to inquire about her father here, the staging and dialogue is modeled almost word for word after the similar scene where she stormed the hotel lobby clad in a Catholic schoolgirl outfit at the climax of Kick-Ass.
For a girl her age, the actress has taken an inordinate number of challenging, unconventional, risk taking roles in pictures like The Texas Killing Fields (she’s currently cast in the Carrie remake), and her lovely work in Let Me In is every bit as subtly disturbing and finely shaded. Chloё has the woebegone, slightly trampled and abused look Elle Fanning projected in J.J. Abram’s Cloverfield-like Super 8 last year. She can affect the winsome poignancy of Brigitte Fossey in Forbidden Games or the manipulative slyness of Sue Lyon in Lolita. More than anything, her quicksilver emotional changes recall Ellen Page’s turn as another deceptively innocent little girl who’s not as helpless as she seems in Hard Candy.
There’s an unformed feminist theme floating just beneath the surface here, playing on society’s view of women as smaller, weaker, and incapable of fighting back. This is much the same reason those bullies constantly refer to Owen, who can’t defend himself, as a ‘little girl’ and why he scoffs at Abby when she promises to help him fight them with the derisive “but you’re a girl.” (It’s actually Owen who must join the strength training program at school to get bigger and stronger). The perception is that women are easy prey, suitable fodder for male power fantasies like that ritualistic one Owen appears to be reenacting in front of the mirror at the beginning, and which might have been gleaned from any number of ’80s slasher flicks. The conception of Abby plays into those same cinematic clichés. That she proves to be something more than the helpless victim she presents herself as to the world, verifying her assertion that “I’m a lot stronger than you think I am,” subverts the traditional horror movie trope, same as her Hit Girl character did assumptions about action movie heroes in her breakthrough Kick-Ass role.
Reeves’ professed aim to present good and evil in terms of ambiguous shades of grey may be true to life but makes for frustratingly open ended drama. There seems no point in raising questions concerning the ineffable nature of evil just to ultimately decide that they’re impossible to answer. Nevertheless, it’s courageous for an American horror movie to try and address such things at all. More than likely the complexity and dark themes which seem so intriguing and unusual and, well, downright foreign to the Hollywood school of gratuitous gore and sensationalized splatter, were part and parcel of the Swedish original on whose successful coattails this remake was riding.
As far as unnecessary horror remakes go, Let Me In is a welcome change of pace from all the recent reboots and rehashes of slasher franchises like Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, etc., etc., ad nauseam. Remakes are of course a mixed blessing. They can place obscure movies on the cultural radar, making them more readily available for viewing, and in the best case scenario, generate a viewer’s interest in checking out the original. On the down side, with the current remake circulating, what call would English-speaking audiences have to search out a foreign language film that’s now been supplanted by a less challenging, more accessible alternative? I must shamefacedly confess that I haven’t seen the Alfredson original myself yet, but now intend to err on the side of the angels by placing a viewing of Let the Right One In at the very top of my to-do list.