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Let Me In

October 3, 2010

Let Me In

If an angel is, as Tony Kushner tells us, “an idea with wings”, then a vampire is an idea with bat wings. Nowhere has this been more thoroughly underscored in recent years than in the Twilight series, where the only thing thinner than the plot is the symbological nuance. But where that movie’s vampires embody the incipient female sexuality that will (we’re told) rip a good girl to shreds, the vampire in Let Me In acts as proxy for an abused and alienated young boy’s fear and rage, which can consume and isolate him from the rest of the world if left unchecked.

Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is that young boy, living in Los Alamos in 1983. His parents are separated, and he lives with his mother, or what there is of her. Her alcoholism renders her absent to the point that we almost never quite see her face on camera, and Owen is largely left to fend for himself. This is complicated by the presence of an extremely aggressive bully (Dylan Minnette) who has picked up a truly sadistic streak from his older brother. Lacking any appropriate recourse, Owen is beginning to act out his violent revenge fantasies when a young girl named Abby (Chloë Moretz) and her father (Richard Jenkins) move into the apartment next to Owen’s.

But Abby is not what she appears to be. She walks about in the snow with no shoes on; she gives her age as “twelve, more or less”; strange, guttural noises emanate through the wall into Owen’s room. And, of course, her arrival coincides with a series of ritualistic murders committed by her “father” to harvest the blood she needs to live. She warns Owen on their first meeting, saying they can never be friends, but Owen has nowhere else to turn. She guides him to stand up and lash back at those who persecute him, and promises to protect him and keep him safe. All he has to do is invite her in and renounce his ties to a world that seems to have already rejected him.

Abby is no hero. Her hair isn’t blow-dried, her clothes aren’t chic, she doesn’t seduce with smoldering looks and soft-focused cameras, and she most definitely does not sparkle in the sunlight. Make no mistake: she is a monster, as vampires were always meant to be. But where else can Owen turn?

The only objection to be raised about Let Me In as a remake of 2008’s Låt den rätte komma in (“Let the Right One In”) is how much more graphic it is. Many things that were only suggested in the previous version are now shown explicitly, and not usually for the better. In Reeves’ hands it becomes much more of an American horror movie and much less of the austerely beautiful film the original was. On the other hand, if those changes make the story more palatable to mainstream American tastes then it may not be such a bad thing to bring a wider audience to see what remains a touching — if disturbing — story.

Worth it: yes.
Bechdel test: fail.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Hunt permalink
    October 4, 2010 08:29

    This one sounds pretty good. Maybe I’ll have to get off my butt and see it in theater. Most of the kids I grew up with who were into horror, approached it in the manner of escape, usually from some kind of home or school abuse, or simply as a way to commiserate with fellow oddballs. Secretly, they might have fantasized that the power of the netherworld would intervene in their own lives, and that to the extent that they had allowed it to enter their lives, it would empower them as well. I really kind of resist romanticist horror, though I guess it’s been there from the start, certainly ever since Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Around the time of Coppola’s Dracula I began to wonder why vampires were getting so much air time, when the obvious answer struck me. The fixation on blood and blood purity were caused by the persistent public trepidation over the developing AIDS epidemic. I wonder if horror has always actually served as this kind of public display of concern. This is one of the reasons I suggested that the subtext behind “Never Let Me Go” is actually the collective ambivalence to the directions of bioscience.

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