MCN Columnists
Kim Voynar

By Kim Voynar

TIFF Review: Let Me In

Here’s the thing with American remakes of foreign films: while I get that studios have a vested interest in making a lot of money off of taking a well-received foreign film and purging it of its, well, foreign-ness, to make it more appealing to the subtitle-averse mainstream American filmgoer, I’m also a pretty firm believer in the philosophy that if you’re going to do a remake, you should add some value to the effort beyond just redoing it with actors recognizable to the American public and making it in English.

The question is, does Let Me In, the much-anticipated remake of critically lauded Swedish vampire flick Let the Right One In, accomplish more than just the mundane scene-by-scene, shot-by-shot remake of the original? And the answer is both no … and yes.

In 2009 when Roger Ebert programmed Let the Right One In at Ebertfest, the film’s producers discussed the remake, and assured the audience — many of whom were hardcore fans of their film — that the remake would be a completely fresh take on the film. They said they would be going back to the source material and writing a new adaptation that would include, in part, material left out of the Swedish version.

For the better part of a year-and-a-half, I’ve been anticipating this remake based on the belief that this would be the case … so you’ll have to forgive me if my initial reaction to the end result was to feel a bit disappointed. Because what I wanted was something creatively new, a different perspective on the source material; and what I got was almost exactly the same movie, just in English, with some different actors.

That said, Let Me In is not, in and of itself, at all a bad film, in large part because it so closely follows the original that it almost can’t help but be good. It kicks off with a flashback that, I suspect, was added largely in part for the short attention span of the American target audience. The Swedish version took its time setting things up with deliberate, arthouse pacing; it was grim and frightening at times, but also subtle in the way in which the violence was conveyed.

This remake is both less subtle and less deliberate; there’s a greater emphasis on the idea of evil interwoven with Christian (it felt, actually, Catholic) iconography and ideas, and it’s less morally ambiguous, I think, than the original was.

Kodi Smit-McPhee (The Road) plays the bullied, sensitive boy (renamed from “Oskar” to the more appropriately American “Owen” here) and Chloe Moretz (Kick-Ass) is Abby (Eli in the original), the barefoot-in-the-snow new neighbor and potential playmate who moves into the friendless Owen’s building. Richard Jenkins (woefully underused here, but excellent when he is on) plays Abby’s adult protector/father figure.

Other than the fact that we have different actors playing the parts and the change in language, the film is pretty much exactly what it was the first time around. The intensity is more or less the same throughout.

There were a couple of things I didn’t like here. I felt that the relationship between Abby and The Father was more deliberately ambiguous in the Swedish version, whereas here there is a giveaway later in the film that assumes you haven’t already deduced what’s revealed. Also, the scene later in the film where Owen refuses to directly invite Abby into his house was better, more tensely drawn the first time around.

Both of the kids are really good; Smit-Mcphee makes for a believable target for school bullies, while Moretz’s performance is strong enough to keep her from getting typecast, and the two of them together have a great, palpable chemistry.

All in all, those who’ve never seen Let the Right One In will, no doubt, find Let Me In to be an enjoyable experience, but I have to wonder if other folks who love the original will find this remake to be an adequate substitute.

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6 Responses to “TIFF Review: Let Me In”

  1. Ryan says:

    I sure am making my way around these reviews today. I disagree with alot of what you said. The film pays respect to the original while still letting Reeves put his own spin on it, and then Reeves can go off and add some new material to the story. I do not think your are giving the film any credit for offering something new in terms of its storytelling. What did you expect to be different? Its a book for petes sake. That is what the movie is getting its story from. As did LTROI. It’s a double edged sword I find with reviews like this. Originally the film would be criticized for straying to far from the source material, but then criticize it for being close to the source material. Its called an adaptation. And like it or not, they are completely different the stories are similar yes, but this is not the shot to shot remake you claim it to be at all. Its a different adaptation. Shares the same beats but never “copies” anything to the point of being an actual remake of the film tee for tee. Reeves was able to pull of some extraordinary things as were the actors.

  2. Kim Voynar says:

    Ryan, sorry, but I completely disagree with you. With the exception of a few minor additions, it’s exactly the same as the first film, even down to the apartment buildings.

    Look, I’m not saying it’s not a perfectly fine film. As I said, I think most American filmgoers, especially if they didn’t see LTROI, will dig it. I thought the kids were great.

    And I think I was very specific in clarifying that I had a particular set of expectations based on what the producers said they were going to do at Ebertfest, which is absolutely NOT what the end result of the remake is, an that my disappointment stems from that, not from the film itself being actually bad as a film.

    It is adapted from the book, yes. But LTROI left out quite a lot from the book that they had said they were going to go back and work in. They said they were going back to the source material — the book, not the first film — and start from scratch. They clearly did not.

    And look, I get why they didn’t. The first film worked, it was a very good film, so why mess with a formula that you already know works? I understand why they did it, I’m just saying that for myself, I would have rather seen a completely different take. That’s all. It’s fine for what it is, it’s just not particularly original or innovative.

  3. Daniella Isaacs says:

    Good review (at least from the perspective of someone who hasn’t seen the remake). I remember the same being said about SOLARIS, that the remake would go back to the novel–which was very different from the Tarkovski film–but then, in the end, the remake (good as it was) just Americanized the Soviet film. I’m blanking out now, but I seem to remember another Euro horror film being remade in just this way–nothing new but a few things being spelled out more explicitly–with me, at the end thinking I’d just wasted my time. Even the preview of LMI made me worry this was going to be the case.

  4. Tristan says:

    Kim’s review is all I need to decide not to see the remake. I’m not a hard-core fan of the 1st movie to begin with; enjoyable as it was at the time. However, if the remake doesn’t add anything new, whether from the source material or the scriptwriter’s imagination, then really I don’t need to see it just because it’s in English. I was hoping they delve into the back story of Abby/Eli and anyone who’s read the book or heard about it knows what I’m talking about. It makes the whole dynamics so much more interesting. Alas, it’s not to be, it appears.

  5. Chris says:

    “What did you expect to be different? Its a book for petes sake”

    I’m pretty sure she expected Let Me In to adhere closer to the book than the Swedish Let The Right One In did. Seemed pretty clear in the review, anyway. And nice work attacking the review and critics in general – you kind of come across as someone who has a vested interest in Let Me In. Like a producer’s kid or something.

    Well written review, Kim. I’m a little disappointed in what you have to say, but I’m not surprised at all that it is a near shot for shot remake. I hate American remakes for the most part anyway. I’m still gonna see this thing for myself, at the very least for a theatrical dose of Richard Jenkins and Elias Koteas.

  6. movies says:

    this one was alright i guess. but the original was superior.

Quote Unquotesee all »

It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon