How many versions of “Romeo and Juliet” have there been? With “Let The Right One In” and this, count two more. “Let Me In” is an American remake of Tomas Alfredson’s tender “Let The Right One In,” based on an engaging vampire novel by Alfredson’s fellow Swede, John Ajvide Lindqvist. Those who admired the 2008 import will recognize many of the same scenes, yet writer-director Matt Reeves’ (“Cloverfield”; writer, “The Yards,” seventy-three episodes of “Felicity”) transposition of the story to 1983 Los Alamos, New Mexico, feels wrenchingly personal in its own right. Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee, “The Road”) lives with his mother in a rundown enclave called Enchanted Hills, missing his estranged father, picked on by older boys. New neighbors move in: a weary older man (Richard Jenkins) and a girl, Abby (the ineffable Chloë Moretz, “Hit Girl”), who seems to be his own age. Reeves would have been 17 at the time, to his characters’ 12 or so; 1983 is also the year after the first release of another study of a Boy and his Other, “E.T.” Where Alfredson’s version is steeped in a prehensile sexuality both more suggestive and more intriguing than the chastity myths of Stephenie Meyer’s “Twilight” series, Reeves finds an American corollary to the essential loneliness of both vampire and child. (A contemporary version would likely turn out more mawkish, self-pitying, a kind of “Eat Prey Bleed.”) A bullying subplot evokes suburban middle schools with insufficient supervision (evoked a few years earlier by “Over the Edge”). Among Reeves’ quietly understated touches is an inventive use of restricted point-of-view, not only to create suspense or tension, but in never truly showing the face of Owen’s mother (Cara Buono) as well as in a car chase restricted to a single, terrifying perspective. “Let Me In” was shot by Greig Fraser, whose credits include Jane Campion’s deliriously-colored “Bright Star.” The look here, while lustrous, is more austere, with chilly blues and manila-yellow puddles of lamplight, as well as solid horizontal compositions, often as stately and bleak as an Atom Egoyan film, like “The Sweet Hereafter.” The era also offers Ronald Reagan speaking of evil in the world, and a mother who believes equally in Jesus and cheap wine. (Neither element is strained, just part of the overall fabric.) In the end, the sad, superb “Let Me In” is more valuable as a parallel work of imagination than the kind of inept knockoff American horror retreads are, and Moretz and Smit-McPhee invest their own precociously damaged gravitas in the brooding mood. It doesn’t bite. 105m. Widescreen. (Ray Pride)
Ray Pride is Newcity’s film critic and a contributing editor to Filmmaker magazine.
His history of Chicago “Ghost Signs” in words and images will be published in Spring 2022.