It’s cold, and there’s blood on the ground. There are empty streets to get lost in, but there’s a monster on the loose.
Let Me In is nearly relentless in its tone of isolation and the chance of finding friendship in the eye of the puberty hurricane. There are few warm moments that emerge out of the kid’s eye view, and they’re as beautiful as the silence. In fact, the whole movie is an exercise in the careful crafting of something we can all relate to by using something none of us can.
Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is bullied at school, left alone by a mother more wrapped up in her own impending divorce, and concerned mostly with eating Now And Laters and acting tough with a kitchen knife in front of his mirror. Abby (Chloe Moretz) moves into the building, and Owen’s life changes. He has finally found a friend. And that friend needs blood to survive.
The story being told here is a coming-of-age tale that adds the trouble of a permanently young girl and her middle-aged guardian hiding from a society that doesn’t like to be eaten. When Abby and Owen first meet, she exclaims calmly that they can’t be friends, and although they slowly develop an intimate relationship, there’s always going to be some truth to her claim. They are both disconnected in some way, and they find each other out in left field.
The acting here is stellar. Chloe Moretz has proven herself repeatedly, but she finds a special brand of creepy and innocent like a pound of sugar being poured into a pint of blood. Kodi Smit-McPhee carries the other weight of the movie, and it’s incredible to see someone so young put together a performance that challenging and vulnerable. There are torturous moments, especially some of the bullying scenes, but Smit-McPhee breaks down so thoroughly that you can’t help but want to carve out a better life for him somehow. A scene in which he finally reaches out to an absent father is the stuff that major awards are based on. While the young actor was a bit off in The Road, it’s clear that director Matt Reeves pulled an extraordinary performance out of him for this one.
On the adult side, there’s Richard Jenkins and Elias Koteas who are as brilliant as ever. They are two sides of the spectrum – a kept man growing tired and clumsy from years of taking life to save one and a police detective dealing with the grisly aftermath found frozen in the lake.
The film is beautiful, conveying the cold, arid middle-of-nowhereness that echoes the loneliness of the two main characters. For the most part, the camera is kept low in order to make it feel like we’re 12 years old again, and it works with a lot of power.
The flaws of Let Me In don’t do much work in dragging it down. The CGI work looks stretchy and unreal which doesn’t help the frightening attacks at all. It also in some ways feels like a smaller film than it should be. The tone is right, and some scenes may raise the kind of questions that leave friends arguing until the wee hours of the morning, but there are also parts that don’t stick to the ribs – most likely because of its predecessor.
Without comparing the movie to Let the Right One In – because they are both gorgeous movies in their own right with their own pros and cons – it’s impossible to un-see the first film, and unfortunately, that takes the sting out of some of the sequences. Without seeing it, I feel certain that I’d love Let Me In even more without any sense of reservation.
Over all, Matt Reeves has taken a novel from Sweden and managed to tell an American story. It’s not a pretty picture, but it’s an excellent movie.