Remakes often earn a lot of justified criticism, but there is a real art to doing one correctly. Assuming the original film was a domestic production, it’s a must that the filmmakers change the story just enough to separate their version; for example, Vincent Vaughn’s Norman Bates voyeuristically masturbating to Anne Heche in Gus Van Sant’s Psycho remake is not enough of an evolution in narrative vision and scope. Filmmakers could even take the James Gunn route regarding his screenplay of 2004’s Dawn of the Dead; use the basic premise for the original and build an entirely new story around it.
Though this may come across as an overgeneralization of American audiences, if the film being remade is international, filmmakers can get away with a scene for scene remake because most American viewers likely haven’t seen the original and won’t seek it out. Such is the case with Let Me In, Matt Reeves’s American retelling of the Swedish film Let the Right One In, as aside for one minor addition, the two films are practically identical. And yet, Let Me In stands on its own two feet as one of the best horror films Hollywood has released this decade.
But how does a horror film with a ringing endorsement such as “The best American horror film in the last 20 years” – from the legendary Stephen King, mind you – only gross a paltry $24.1 million globally? To be fair, it was released in a competitive time frame, having to share a weekend with The Social Network, for instance, but what was the issue with getting people in seats? Though some may disagree, part of the reason may have been Reeves’s writing and corresponding direction.
Now, in no way should that statement be taken as a slight against Reeves, because he does a stellar job with the adaptation and behind the camera. Let Me In is a treat to behold with how its story unfolds. In sharp peaks and lulling valleys, every now and then it knocks you back and lets you recover long enough for the next impact. This particular version of the story begins with a forceful in medias res, and though the rest of the first act continues rather eventless, it maintains an eerie air of mystery and gloom that’s intriguing enough to follow along. It may set the tone for how the narrative progresses, but the mid to low tempo pacing that comes along with it was probably enough to turn off viewers.
But boy, did those who turned down the opportunity miss out, because during those gaps between explosive plot points, there is little to nothing else that falls short of compelling. Two of the film’s greatest strengths are the performances from its young leads, Kodi Smit-McPhee and Chloë Grace Moretz. Not only do both of their turns as Owen and Abby, respectively, remain impressively effortless in their depicting the trials and tribulations of adolescence, but also their poise in front of the camera speaks to how mature they were for their age.
It helps that Greg Fraser’s cinematography captures the two and the settings they occupy so beautifully, as well. The film may seem long at its nearly two-hour runtime, but almost every shot of Fraser’s is pleasing to the eye. At once, it simultaneously depicts the hope and dread of youth, as well as being perhaps the greatest catalyst for the film’s often cold-hearted atmosphere. Fortunately, the narrative’s tone is consistent enough in its nuance that Fraser is able to convey such conflicting emotions so seamlessly. Moments may unsettle or even disturb, but never so overbearing that the film descends into the moodiness expected of its characters’ ages.
Nothing can replace the impact Let the Right One In had on the genre landscape back in 2008, but there is nothing stopping Let Me In from holding a similar position in its own time. It is the exact standard every remake should hold themselves to, because part of the point in remaking films is paying reverence to the past. Yes, the distance between 2008 and 2010 is negligible as far as distance is concerned, but regardless of when the original film was released, if you’re a filmmaker, and you regard the original as a classic, treat it like one.