With bite

The orig­i­nal is still fresh, but Matt Reeves sinks teeth into re­make ‘Let Me In.’

Los Angeles Times - - Calendar -

BY STEVEN ZEITCHIK >>> In re­mak­ing the Swedish vam­pire cult hit “Let the Right One In,” Matt Reeves put him­self in a po­si­tion as fraught as Drac­ula at high noon.

Most peo­ple had never heard of the source ma­te­rial. And some of those who had — and could help him spread pos­i­tive word — just wished the project would go away. Why at­tempt an English-lan­guage do-over, they asked, of a re­cent movie that was pretty much per­fect in the first place?

“I started writ­ing the script for ‘Let Me In,’ and then ‘Let the Right One In’ got big in the U.S. I thought, ‘Oh no, there’s go­ing to be a lot more fo­cus on this now,’ ” said Reeves, the “Clover­field” di­rec­tor and J.J. Abrams pro­tégé who scripted and di­rected the new movie, which stars Chloe Moretz, Kodi Smit-McPhee and Richard Jenk­ins. “It was ter­ri­fy­ing.”

When “Let Me In” opens Fri­day, fans will have a chance to judge whether Reeves and his cast have paid proper homage to the orig­i­nal while re­con­tex­tu­al­iz­ing it in a way that’s uniquely Amer­i­can.

To­mas Al­fred­son’s “Let the Right One In,” based on a script and novel from John Aj­vide Lindqvist, was a rel­a­tively mi­nor com­mer­cial re­lease in the U.S. in the fall of 2008, tak­ing in just $2 mil­lion at the box of­fice. But it won an out­sized fan base among crit­ics and horror-genre blog­gers.

The Swedish-lan­guage pic­ture told the story of Eli and Oskar, a young vam­pire girl and a

lonely boy who strike up a friend­ship in a snow­bound, lower-mid­dle-class Stock­holm sub­urb in the early 1980s. Bul­lied by his class­mates and ne­glected by his par­ents, Oskar finds in Eli a sym­pa­thetic ear, and the two en­gage in a se­ries of ten­der meet­ings in the court­yard of their apart­ment com­plex.

But the young vam­pire’s life is hardly sim­ple — the blood-crav­ing crea­ture is en­tan­gled in an am­bigu­ous re­la­tion­ship with a worn­down, mid­dle-aged man who may be pro­tect­ing her or ex­ploit­ing her. With its ex­quis­ite sub­tlety, meta­phoric over­tones about pread­o­les­cent sex­u­al­ity and clever in­ver­sion of a tra­di­tional power re­la­tion­ship, “Let the Right One In” both rein­vented a sub­genre and tran­scended it, a vam­pire movie for non-vam­pire fans.

1980s Amer­ica

Reeves re­tained Al­fred­son’s struc­ture, re­la­tion­ships, snowy at­mo­spher­ics and 1980s set­ting. Again, a lonely boy, Owen (Smit-McPhee), finds con­nec­tion with a young, an­drog­y­nous vam­pire, Abby (Moretz). The vam­pire, mean­while, car­ries on in a murky dy­namic with an older man (Jenk­ins). But by re­lo­cat­ing the story to Amer­ica (the film was shot and set in Los Alamos, N.M.), Reeves was able to give the ma­te­rial a so­ciopo­lit­i­cal spin, in­cor­po­rat­ing ’80s pop tunes and Ron­ald Rea­gan speeches about the na­ture of evil.

“It’s a bal­anc­ing act. You don’t want to change any­thing for change’s sake, but you do want to per­son­al­ize it,” said Reeves, 44. “Putting in a lot about grow­ing up in Rea­gan’s Amer­ica is what made it feel closer to my own life.”

Blood will spill

And though he main­tains the the­matic spine of “Let the Right One In,” Reeves makes the scares and the blood more ex­plicit, en­cas­ing his psy­cho­log­i­cal and emo­tional con­cerns in a genre skin.

And he elic­its a quiet, moody per­for­mance from Moretz that is a world apart from the wise­crack­ing swag­ger of the Hit Girl char­ac­ter she made fa­mous in last spring’s “Kick-Ass.”

“They say the Amer­i­can movie is an arty film and is very Euro­pean, but it’s re­ally not. It tells the story in a more straight­for­ward way,” said Carl Molin­der, a pro­ducer on the orig­i­nal and the re­make.

From the start, fans of the orig­i­nal — even those in the U.S. — were wring­ing their hands about an Amer­i­can take on the story. Chief among their con­cerns was that film­mak­ers would trans­form the pre­pubescent char­ac­ters into teenagers. That, they feared, would turn the movie into a “Twi­light” knock­off and rob the ro­mance of its gen­tle in­no­cence.

But judg­ing by blog chat­ter, a lot of fans also feared the op­po­site: a car­bon copy of “Let the Right One In.” (To try to avoid this, Reeves asked his cast not to see the orig­i­nal.)

“I un­der­stand why peo­ple would feel pro­tec­tive,” Smit-McPhee said at a party fol­low­ing the film’s pre­miere this week in West­wood. “It’s a movie a lot of peo­ple feel close to.” Or as Jenk­ins put it, “I don’t blame the au­di­ence for wor­ry­ing about a re­make — they’ve been burned a lot.”

But un­like many re­makes land­ing in the­aters these days, “Let Me In” was hardly the re­sult of Hollywood ex­ec­u­tives vam­pir­i­cally scour­ing for any for­eign­lan­guage hit they could get their hands on.

Pro­duc­ers of “Let the Right One In” had ac­tu­ally started ag­gres­sively shop­ping a re­make be­fore the Swedish-lan­guage ver­sion even be­gan shoot­ing, meet­ing with Amer­i­can stu­dio ex­ec­u­tives and pro­duc­ers (in­clud­ing, in­ci­den­tally, J.J. Abrams).

Ham­mer Films, an iconic Bri­tish horror la­bel that had been dor­mant for decades, de­cided to take on the re- make as the first step of its res­ur­rec­tion. “We didn’t even need to see the fin­ished film to know this was spe­cial,” said Ham­mer’s Nigel Sin­clair, a “Let Me In” pro­ducer.

Over­ture Films then came on to co-fi­nance and dis­trib­ute, which seemed to give the project a boost un­til the com­pany was thrown into dis­ar­ray this sum­mer. Rel­a­tiv­ity’s par­tial ac­qui­si­tion of Over­ture put the re­lease back on track.

Al­though the new­com­ers were en­thu­si­as­tic, not ev­ery­one in­volved with the orig­i­nal thought an English-lan­guage ver­sion was a good idea. Reeves struck up a cor­re­spon­dence with Lindqvist, but Al­fred­son main­tained his dis­tance.

The di­rec­tor’s rep­re­sen­ta­tives de­clined sev­eral re­quests for an in­ter­view for this story, but one as­so­ci­ate of Al­fred­son’s who asked not to be iden­ti­fied be­cause of sen­si­tiv­i­ties over the re­make said, “His ba­sic thought was, ‘My movie said ev­ery­thing there was to say. Why do we need an­other one?’ ” Al­fred­son has yet to see the new film.

Like Al­fred­son, Reeves tears down as­sump­tions about vam­pires, which as of late have been por­trayed as ro­man­tic, glam­orous and even pow­er­ful fig­ures. In “Let Me In,” they’re sim­ply vagabonds who live in a con­stant state of prim­i­tive sur­vival.

“It’s prob­a­bly the only vam­pire movie where you learn that you don’t want to be a vam­pire. You’re al­ways on the run; you have no money. Could it be any more de­press­ing?” dead­pans Jenk­ins. “If there’s a moral to the story, it’s don’t get bit.”

steve.zeitchik@latimes.com

Brian van der Brug Los An­ge­les Times

MAK­ING A MARK: Chloe Moretz and Kodi Smit-McPhee play cen­tral char­ac­ters in the U.S. ver­sion of the Swedish cult hit.

Saeed Adyani

BOND­ING TIME: A young, an­drog­y­nous vam­pire (Chloe Moretz) and a lonely, trou­bled boy (Kodi Smit-McPhee) be­come friends in “Let Me In.”

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