The tradition of the vampire film has been morphed and redefined in the last few years, in large part due to the popular treacle of the Twilight franchise. While I myself am not one to hate on something people love and adore, I think it’s safe to say that shimmery men are not what scares most people.
But the inherent fear of vampires still exists. Whether it is the actual horror of blood sucking demons slaughtering you, the idea of an eternal and everlasting existence, or the dangerous seduction of contemporary myths, vampires still hold sway over us. Matt Reeves’ Let Me In speaks to many of these fears, yet, pushes all aside to address something scarier than them all: isolation.
It’s 1983, and Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is one lonely little boy. In the snowy suburbs of Los Alamos, New Mexico, he spends his nights quietly sitting in the courtyard of his mother’s apartment complex, spying on his neighbors and generally passing the time humming candy jingles. During the day he’s a bullied kid, constantly under threat by one particular beast of a tween bent on making Owen’s life hell. Paired with his parent’s incoming divorce, Owen’s life is instantly relatable, evoking the pain of adolescence and the loneliness that this period of life wallows in. Somehow, the 1983 setting only lends it a stronger sense of pain and isolation.
However, one evening, Owen spots a new neighbor move in, a bare-footed young girl and what appears to be her father. Upon meeting, the girl introduced as Abby (Chloe Morets) states to Owen that “they cannot be friends”, which instantly starts a relationship that blooms into a powerful affection. While not a sexual or romantic love per se, it is a connection between two lonely people that only the very young seem to establish. These two need each other because there is no one else for them to relate to, and when people of such loneliness find each other, they latch on.
Of course, it doesn’t take long to realize that Abby is not who she seems. A vampire of unknown age, she requires blood to survive. Her “father” is anything but, an apparent caretaker who hunts young men from quick-stops and gyms, slaughtering them in the woods to collect their blood. Grisly scenes, yes, but they lend weight to this man and his relationship to the girl. Certainly not portrayed as pederastic in the film, there is certainly something unique about their relationship. This caretaker dies within the first few moments of the film, and this has strong implications for both Abby and Owen.
Generally, Let Me In is a quiet and horrifying film. The world of Owen and Abby is street lamp orange and half light gray, and it is genuinely disturbing to conceive that a child like Abby would be the source of such innocent slaughter, or that Owen could accept such a thing. Their relationship is disturbing, yet the relationship they form provides a backbone that, while not justifying the horrible things Abby does, at least provides and explanation.
Unfortunately, I generally like my horror films to be understated and muted. When the horror is explicitly defined, the natural sense of fear is lost, to be displaced by cheap shocks. If there is a major flaw with Let Me In, it is how Abby’s killing are clearly shown in bloody, unnaturally fast kills. When overcome with bloodlust, she’s an animalistic beast, supernaturally fast, strong, and limber. While this is in itself fine, the CGI attacks scenes are so weird looking, so B-movie, that it almost destroys what is a thoughtful and quiet horror film. I wish Reeves had taken a much more subdued approach to these scenes, as the relationship between the two leads is the true plot of the film, and the conflict of the vampirism is truly on the periphery.
It would be impossible to talk about Let Me In without talking about the Swedish film that came out in 2008, Let The Right One In. Reeves has denied that he was remaking the 2008 original, instead that he was making an American version of the book. Unfortunately, it is pretty clear that this film and Let The Right One In share much in common. While movie buffs are going to consider the Swedish original to be the de facto adaptation, the general consensus indicates that Let Me In is a more than a capable version of the story.
Ultimately, Let Me In is a subdued horror film, where the violence and the blood are secondary to the true story of the film: boy meets girl. It’s a lovely story, and the juxtaposition with the horrific reality works to create a sense of dread that permeates the story. While the ending isn’t really happy, it’s a story that the audience has to respect and understand, as for these two, it’s the only options they have.