I feel that I should preface this review by letting you know that I am a huge fan of Tomas Alfredson’s film version of Let the Right One In. It was number one on my “Best Of” list the year that it finally got DVD/Blu-ray distribution here in the States, and I have watched it several times over the last couple of years; each time, gaining a little more appreciation for it. Because of this, I found myself very skeptical of the idea of remaking it. Like many others out there, I did not see the point in retelling the story – especially so soon after the original – aside from just trying to make a version of the film without subtitles (yes, it is sad that Americans seem to be that fickle). That being said, imagine my surprise when, after seeing Matt Reeves’ Let Me In in the theater on opening day, I walked out actually thinking that it was a great film. So great, in fact, that it ended up being one of my favorite films from 2010. That being said, it’s safe to say that I was certainly eager to add it to my collection when it came out on DVD/Blu-ray. Well, that day came a few weeks ago, and I am happy to report that not only is the film even better upon second viewing, but the home video presentation from Anchor Bay is also stellar.
In case you aren’t already aware, Let Me In is based on the novel Let the Right One In by Swedish author John Lindqvist. The story follows a young boy, Owen, who is the subject of constant torment and bullying by his peers at school, and his blossoming relationship with a girl, Abby, who moves into his apartment complex. There’s a catch though: the “girl” is actually a vampire who travels from town to town with her “father,” who is essentially her familiar and is tasked with getting blood for her to feed on. Regardless of this, Owen and Abby begin to develop a relationship, but due to the nature of her “condition,” the two are destined to eventually be separated. As Owen and Abby discover more about one another, Owen’s run-ins with the school bullies become increasingly dangerous and more violent; until it seems that some sort of retribution is inevitable. It also doesn’t help that a police detective (played by Elias Koteas) is starting to draw connections between the new residents and a rash of recent murders in town.
The first thing that I feel the need to bring up is that, to me, the reason that Let Me In holds up so well is that it stands firmly on its own merits. Like many of the other worthwhile “remakes” out there, it doesn’t just try to rehash the original film. Instead, it essentially revisits the original source material and reinterprets it to create its own world. Sure, there are some sequences, shots, and dialog that feel like they may have been ported directly over from Let the Right One In, but they never detract from the film, and I have the feeling that they are more a result of both films reflecting the literal source material; not just one film imitating the other. Regardless of the actual reasons for the similarities, I don’t feel that they are anything to complain about.
One of the changes that this version of the film makes is that the story is set during the 1980s and the events take place in Albuquerque, New Mexico here in The States. This really resonated with me because I was a child of the 80s, and I was close to the age of the kids in the film during that time period. This not only made me nostalgic in many ways, but it also made me really identify with the characters in the story. It’s also worth noting that pretty much every aspect of the period is appropriately represented. Ti West’s The House of the Devil has garnered many accolades for its ability to capture the essence of the 1980s, but this film does an even better job of it. The fashions, the music, the culture… it’s all on display here. And, what’s more, it never feels forced or gimmicky. Instead of a self-referential nod to the times, we get a great period piece of sorts.
Even if you are not a child of the 80s, I still think that you will have no trouble identifying with the two main characters in this film, as Kodi Smit-McPhee and Chloe Moretz do such an amazing job here. A film like this hinges on the believability of its young actors. After all, the heart and soul of the story is not the fantastical elements of it; it’s the story about the relationship between the boy and the girl who are caught up in them. If you can’t relate to them, or you find them to be unlikeable, then it doesn’t matter what else happens in the film. Luckily, that disconnect never occurs in Let Me In, and I give all of the credit for that to the phenomenal acting chops displayed by the two child leads.
Reeves was obviously aware that this element would make or break the film because it seems like he made a conscious effort to make the adult characters as generic and non-existent as possible. For example, Abby’s familiar is simply referred to in the film’s credits as “The Father,” and Elias Koteas’ character is given the name “The Policeman.” This doesn’t infer that the actors don’t do a great job here, though, because they both turn in some brilliant performances. It just means that, even though they are pivotal in many ways to the story, their involvement never outshines that of the children. In fact, for the majority of the film, the adults are faceless; hidden partially behind frosted glass or standing with their backs to the camera. While it may sound like an odd tactic, it actually works perfectly to emphasize the emotional isolation of Owen and keep the viewer’s attention on the relationship between him and Abby.
At the end of the day, Let Me In is as much of a dramatic character study as it is a horror film. Sure, there are vampires here, but the real monster in the story is man. The children who torment and bully Owen are much more horrific in their actions than Abby. She kills only to feed, but you can tell that the bullies act the way they do because they derive pleasure from the pain they cause. This point is what was really driven home with me in the original, and Reeves does a brilliant job in retaining it in his version. In fact, I think that I felt more anger towards the bullies in this film than I have in almost any other movie, and that is a true compliment.
Ultimately, Reeves’ film manages to transcend the labels that were initially tacked on to it. It’s not a simple remake of an already successful film. Instead, it’s a dark fairy tale that obviously comes from a very personal place. While it may not be perfect, there is no question in my mind that it was one of the best films of 2010, and I am fairly certain that it will have a place among the top horror films of this decade when the time comes. If you haven’t given it a chance – and, judging by the film’s box office, many of you haven’t – then I highly suggest that you seek it out and watch it.
As for Anchor Bay’s home video presentation of the film, it really doesn’t get any better than this. Visually, the disc’s transfer is a near perfect replication of my theatrical viewing experience. The film is very dark, with cinematography that is intentionally soft at times, so this certainly isn’t a disc that you would want to use to wow visitors. However, the problems that plague many films with this sort of look (i.e. Blocking, Artifacting, etc.) are virtually non-existent here, and the transfer remains very film-like. As such, I believe that Let Me In looks as good as it ever has, I have no real complaints in the video department.
The lossless audio track on the disc is even more impressive. Watching Let Me In on my home theater with the volume turned up made for a better experience than I had in the theater. The surrounds are active throughout much of the film, and they help to make the film very atmospheric. The score and music tracks are all mixed very well, and the dialog is as clear as day. The track really helps to accentuate the horrific moments of the film; especially the guttural screech that Abby gives off when she feeds. This last bit actually sent shivers up my spine whenever I heard it.
Fans of the film will also be happy to know that bonus features on the disc, while not copious in quantity, are definitely solid. The best of them is easily the feature-length commentary track from Reeves. Not only is the Director’s talk very informative, but it really drives home the fact that this movie was labor of love for him and that it came from a very personal place. Almost every aspect of the film’s production is discussed, and Reeves keeps things interesting throughout.
Other extras on the disc include a making-of feature, a picture-in-picture commentary (exclusive to the Blu-ray), some deleted scenes, and a couple of short pieces that look at the film’s visual effects. The making-of, entitled From the Inside: A Look at the Making of Let Me In, is a nice addition to the package. Though it’s fairly short (only about 17 minutes or so), it is much better than a lot of the others out there, which are essentially just extended EPKs. The picture-in-picture is not all that amazing, and it basically just spreads about 30 minutes of informational footage across the running time of the film. The deleted scenes, which also feature optional commentaries, are interesting to watch, but I certainly understand why they were left out of the finished film. Still, it’s fun to see what else was shot and find out why it got left behind. Finally, the special effects featurettes are the least impressive of the bunch. They are worth a watch if you are interested in the use of digital effects, but otherwise, they are fairly lackluster.
In the end, I highly recommend Anchor Bay’s Blu-ray release of Let Me In. Not only is the film great, but it looks and sounds about as good as it probably ever has. The bonus materials are not amazing, but they do manage to be fairly solid, and Reeves’ commentary alone makes the package worth buying. Here’s hoping we get more from him in the future!