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TORONTO — The hauntingly affecting 2008 Swedish coming-of-age vampire import “Let the Right One In” goes the inevitable English-language remake route — with similarly potent results.
Written and directed by Matt Reeves, the retitled “Let Me In” achieves the rare feat of remaining rigorously reverential to its source material while emerging as a highly accomplished work in its own right.
Like the original (based on a bestselling novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist), the story of a tender bond formed between a 12-year-old social outcast and his lonely new next-door neighbor with a dark secret plays like a decidedly less wispy, pubescent take on the “Twilight” franchise to profoundly disturbing effect.
The first production out of the gate for recently resurrected British horror brand Hammer Films, “Let Me In” should handily bring in new blood while earning the respect of the original’s rabid international cult fan base.
Reeves, whose previous feature effort was the hit 2008 apocalyptic thriller “Cloverfield,” immediately establishes the uneasy, foreboding tone as an ambulance wends its way through some seriously dark, stormy and frozen New Mexican terrain (subbing nicely for the original’s bleak suburban Stockholm backdrop).
After a very brief prologue setting the Reagan-era, “Evil Empire” climate, the time frame retreats somewhat to introduce Owen, a slight, quiet-spoken 12-year-old bully magnet (sensitively played by Kodi Smit-McPhee) and the remote Los Alamos apartment complex where he lives with his divorced, alcoholic mother.
Owen’s hopeless pre-teen existence is about to take an unexpected turn with the arrival of Abby (equally impressive Chloe Moretz), who doesn’t quite prove to be his contemporary, despite her innocent appearance.
While he faithfully recreates a number of sequences and shifts the positions of others, Reeves also incorporates some new stuff that, for the most part, heightens rather than diminishes the original’s understated intensity.
Sure, we probably could have lived without the glowing vampire eyes, and the religious overtones come on a tad strong, but the tweaks are otherwise skillfully employed, favoring unique camera p.o.v. over CGI excess. That’s particularly true of a terrifying car crash sequence that takes place entirely from inside the out-of-control vehicle.
Key to the remake’s ultimate success is the casting of the troubled young leads.Smit-McPhee and Moretz possess the soulful depth and pre-adolescent vulnerability necessary to keep it compellingly real.
Also good is Richard Jenkins, whose melancholic demeanor is put to good use as Moretz’s protector, while Elias Koteas makes for a credible moral compass in the added role of a police officer attempting to find a culprit responsible for all those ritual murders.
Echoing the prevailing horrific/mournful vibe is Michael Giacchino’s masterful score, which is simultaneously bone-chilling and achingly poignant.
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