Review in a Hurry: Faced with endless beatings by bullies or befriending a pint-size vampire, a young boy chooses to let the right one in. Let Me In is the rare remake that maintains the strengths of the original while staking out new ground.
The Bigger Picture: In Los Alamos, N.M., circa 1983, 12-year-old Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee) lives in lower-income housing with his single mom. He spends the winter nights by himself, fumbling with his Rubik's Cube and hanging out on the monkey bars. He's oddly fine with the nighttime setting, probably because daytime brings school—in particular, gym class—and constant torture from much bigger students.
With no one to turn to (we never get a good look at his mom, making her feel distant akin to the adults in a Peanuts strip) Owen would be happy to meet another soul who enjoys the frozen nights. Enter new neighbor Abby (Chloe Grace Moretz) who hangs out in the snow barefoot and is also 12. But she's been "12" for a very long time.
At times, writer/director Matt Reeves' (Cloverfield) version is nearly identical to the 2008 Swedish original Let the Right One In. There are some structural changes, and even with many scenes feeling like shot-for-shot remakes, Let Me In becomes something wholly original. The Euro version used the vampire angle as a metaphor for immigration, while Reeves' offering is focused primarily on the isolation of the latchkey generation.
Take away the vampire tropes and the heart of this warm-blooded movie is a strange, affecting coming-of-age tale. On the brink of adolescence, Owen is overly sensitive which makes Abby a great companion—who else is more aware of their surroundings than a vampire? It's fascinating to see just how desperate being a kid as well as a bloodsucker can be.
Vampires are pretty overdone these days, but thankfully, Let Me In allows reality to sink in before getting to the obligatory herky-jerky CG kills. Plus, Abby's a vampire whose way of living (barely scraping by from town to town) doesn't seem that alluring—no sparkling skin here.
The script isn't interested in stripping away all the lore of vamps, however. The film's title reminds us that vampires legendarily can't enter a home without being invited. What's much creepier is what happens if they actually do come in without an invitation.
Smit-McPhee and Moretz are perfect as the two lost souls. Last year, Smit-McPhee was compelling as the quietest kid ever in The Road. He's a wee bit older now (less cute, more awkward-looking) and still spends the first act not saying much but expressing a lot with his eyes. Likewise, Moretz was the best thing in Kick-Ass and she's even better with a more layered role (sadly, with less fight scenes).
Richard Jenkins and Elias Koteas have somewhat thankless authority figure parts, but they both shine. Jenkins, who plays Abby's "dad," has a remarkable scene in an out-of-control station wagon. Koteas plays a detective investigating the town's recent wave of grisly murders.
The 180—a Second Opinion: Oscar winner Michael Giacchino's score can be thoughtful, entrancing and quite scary. Except when it isn't, and then it sounds an awful lot like Giacchino's former day job, on Lost, and that can be distracting.