Week 32 – New Mexico
Let Me In (2010), directed by Matt Reeves, written by Matt Reeves (screenplay) and John Ajvide Lindqvist (screenplay and novel), Kodi Smit-McPhee, Chloe Moretz, Richard Jenkins, Cara Buono and Elias Koteas
The public, in general, does not like to mix reading and movie-watching.
Or else they just hate nasty, greasy foreigners.
Anybody who has ever worked in a video store – whether it be one of the big chains or Video Bargainville – has probably assisted many a customer suffering from subtitle-induced logophobia, or fear of words.
It probably doesn’t surprise you that I was once a video store clerk. At the time I had convinced myself that customer service was a suitable career path for a recent college graduate with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication. I can still remember the job interview. “Says here you’ve got a BA in Communication,” the puffy-faced middle-aged store manager said, glancing down at my job application before looking up at me with a smirk. “Super. You’re hired. Now go communicate with that woman over there who claims to have no idea why there’s late fees on her account for Body Chemistry 2, Red Shoe Diaries 6 and Kangaroo Jack.” I’m kidding. That never actually happened. It was Air Bud, not Kangaroo Jack.
When I wasn’t dishing out friendly advice to parents about why they should not give their teenage son or daughter unrestricted access to their video store account, I was dealing with unhappy customers. Unhappy ignorant customers. Unhappy, unpleasant ignorant South Jersey redneck white trash customers.
I remember more than one occasion of a customer returning a videotape (I know I’m dating myself by using the word “videotape,” but stay with me here) because they unknowingly rented a movie in a foreign language (the horror!) and – not being fluent in Spanish or French or Spanglish or whatever – were forced to rely on subtitles to understand what was going on.
Of course we let them trade the offending foreign movie in for something more palatable – like Kangaroo Jack – because you learn quickly working in a video store that it’s easier to give a complaining customer whatever it is they want rather than get into an argument. Arguments are a lot of work – and verbal confrontations don’t pay extra, as fun as they might be from time to time.
Despite more often than not conceding to “the customer is always right” rule, being video store clerks, we remained under the illusion we were somehow better than the customers we served. So, my co-workers and I would roll our eyes whenever we’d get one of these subtitle-hating cretins (usually not in front of the customer), which would usually be followed by one of us ranting about how the world is full of uneducated, stupid people whose idea of high art is Kangaroo Jack. (If you’re wondering about the whole Kangaroo Jack thing, Kangaroo Jack was one of the more popular titles at the video store where I worked, which sums up the average mentality of our customers I served better than any long-winded rant.)
End of rant.
Fast-forward to now. I am no longer a video store clerk. I’m a blogger/self-appointed media critic, which means sometimes I still remain under the illusion that I am smarter and more educated than Jane and Joe Public. So when I heard that they were doing an English-language remake of the Swedish-language vampire film, Let The Right One In, my reaction was something like “Huh?”, then “Why?”, then finally “Oh yeah, because people are idiots.”
And the kicker is, I had no room to form any real opinion here since I wasn’t all that blown away by Let The Right One In the first time I saw it. Granted, this probably had something to do with the fact that I didn’t know what I was getting into. I went with Mark, a friend of mine from college.
“You want to go see Let The Right One In?” he asked.
I’m all, “Sure! Uhm … what is it?”
He’s all, “It’s this vampire movie that’s supposed to be awesome.” This was right before True Blood and Twilight hit and vampires were still cool, so I was all, “Vampires! Cool! Let’s go!”
Mark and I share a common interest in really weird, off-beat movies – Fulci, Takashi Miike. So I was expecting something very different from what I got, a moody drama about a 12- or 13-year-old boy who strikes up a friendship with the little girl (or what appears to be a little girl) who lives next door to him, who happens to be a vampire. I think Mark was confused too because he said to me on the way out of the theater, “I don’t know if I liked that or not. I think I liked it.” I felt the same way. Later, I’m sure I described it to my wife Anna as “not so great.” Then, she and I watched it together and I loved it, knowing a little more about what kind of movie it was going to be.
Let The Right One In, based on a bestselling 2004 novel by John Adjvide Lindqvist, is probably one of the most original vampire movies I’ve ever seen, in a genre almost as played out as the zombie flick. It takes the whole vampire mythos and strips it of all the glamor and fun, an image perpetuated by everything from The Lost Boys to Count Chocula. Being a vampire sucks! (No pun intended. Har har.) Eli, the pint-sized bloodsucker of Let The Right One In, leads a lonely existence – hiding from the daylight, being hungry, being very hungry because the only food you can eat can’t be picked up at the supermarket but can only be obtained through cold-blooded murder, never making any real friends because the people she gets to know inevitably wind up getting old while she stays a perpetual tween. The only person who matches Eli in terms of loneliness is Oskar, the little boy who lives next door to her. Oskar has no friends. He gets the shit beat out of him in school on a daily basis. He lives with his mother and his father is nowhere to be found. Eli and Oskar also differ in a lot of ways, aside from the obvious. While Oskar is weak, Eli is strong. Let The Right One In is about friendship between two outcasts. It’s about how two people so radically different can find common ground and yet learn from each other. Eli teaches Oskar to be strong and stand up to the bullies that harass him. Oskar teaches Eli about humanity.
It’s a slow burn and easily could have made last week’s list of great “slow and steady” movies, but if you’re willing to invest the time, it’s worth it. (And it’s available to watch instantly through Netflix.)
The most defining characteristic of Let The Right One In is its mood, spooky and silent like a snowstorm at midnight. The soundtrack is stark. This only makes the moments in the film where violence erupts that much more jarring. In addition, the film takes full advantage of its setting, a working-class neighborhood in Stockholm where everyone knows each other and everyone has his or her nose in everyone else’s business.
As for the casting, I’m in no way familiar with the young actor and actress who play Oskar and Eli, but both of their performances are excellent. This especially goes for Eli, who need not say a word but just a give a look to convey the anguish of a life eternal. That’s good, because anything they say is going to be jibberish to English-speaking audiences without subtitles.
Despite a lack of heavy dialogue which could detract from a non-Swede enjoying the film, someone had the bright idea to remake Let The Right One In, even before its 2008 release. That someone (or someones) was (or were) British film company Hammer Films (yes, that Hammer films) and American film company Overture Films, a division of Starz Entertainment. Let The Right One In‘s director Thomas Alfredson was approached about directing the remake, but declined. (“Remakes should be made of movies that aren’t very good, that gives you the chance to fix whatever has gone wrong,” he quipped. “I’m very proud of my movie.”) So, instead, Cloverfield director Matt Reeves was brought on board. Reeves also wrote the script, which pretty much follows the original film exactly despite Linqdvist having claimed that Reeves told him he was making another adaptation of the book rather than a remake of the Swedish film. There are a few minor plot detail changes – in the Swedish movie and book there’s some ambiguity as to Eli’s gender, a part of the story not present in the American film. For the most part, however, it’s the same movie.
There’s a few things I do not like about the remake that I’ll get out of the way, first beginning with the title – Let Me In, which is a less ominous title than the original film’s warning to Let The Right One In. I don’t know. Most likely I’m just used to Let The Right One In.
The other thing – and I know it’s not the focus of the film — but I found the special effects to be a little too much on the fake CGI side. In the American version, for instance, when a victim is attacked, they’re attacked by what seems to be this leaping, spider-creature, which is kind of cool but doesn’t really fit with the realistic tone the movie has for the most part.
Besides those two complaints, it’s a really good movie, albeit an unnecessary one.
The setting of the film was moved from Sweden to New Mexico, which surprised me at first because cold weather was such an integral part of the original movie’s feel and New Mexico, to me, is full of deserts – because it’s like Mexico, right? What I failed to realize was that the climate of northern New Mexico is cold and mountainous – it borders Colorado – and areas there get plenty of snow.
So they duplicated the setting, but what about Kare Hedebrant and Lina Leandersson, who play Oskar and Eli? Reeves changed Oskar and Eli to Owen and Abby. Creepy-looking Australian child actor Cody-Smit McGee (The Road) was cast as Owen and Chloe Moretz (Kick-Ass) was cast as Abby. Both are perfect in their parts. No complaints there.
One change I did like was the decision to be more up front about when Let Me In, as the English-language remake would be titled, takes place. The 1980s setting gives the opportunity to throw some fitting gloomy new-wave/early 1980s rock tunes into the soundtrack like Blue Öyster Cult’s “Burnin’ For You” and Culture Club’s “Do You Really Want To Hurt Me?” I’m guessing the original film was set in the ’80s as well, with my biggest clue being that a Rubik’s Cube factors into the story at one point, as it also does in the remake. Still – and this is probably due to the music — I didn’t feel the time frame of Let The Right One In was as big a part of the movie’s feel as it was in Let Me In.
But who are we kidding? This is the same movie.
I’d like to think I’ve come a long way from when I was a jaded video store clerk, and maybe in this way I have: I’m not going to blame the consumer for the decision to remake what was already a perfectly fine film. At no point did I get the impression that Joe Q. Public was clamoring for a Let The Right One In remake. If any one is to blame, it’s Hammer Films and Starz Entertainment. One can only assume that their reasoning was that the public was too ignorant to handle the film in its original form. But, in the end, what were they looking to gain? Money? Considering the film only opened on 2021 screens last October, they couldn’t have expected it to turn that much of a profit. Recognition for the original film? If that’s the case, why not just re-release the original?
I’m not not going to recommend Let Me In, which was released on DVD and Blu-Ray last week. If you’ve already seen the original, which is available to watch instantly through Netflix, and are curious, check it out. You won’t be disappointed, since I assume you’ll already be going into it with low expectations.
If you haven’t seen the original, see that first. I know that the argument can be made that in certain cases a cover song is even better than the original – but that’s just not the case here. Even if the remake is an excellent imitation, when it’s all over, you’ll still be wondering “Why?”
Next week: Part one of a New York twofer – the East coast’s movie mecca, The Big Apple.
Matt D.’s Top Five Remakes That Are Better Than The Original
5. A Little Princess (1995), directed by Alfonso Cuaron – A remake of the 1939 Walter Lang drama starring Shirley Temple, which was a remake of a 1917 film directed by Marshall Neilan. Taking what was a fairly dated melodrama, Cuaron moved the action from London during the Second Boer War to the generally more recognizable setting of New York during World War I. Adding a layer of Indian mythos to the riches-to-rags story of a little girl whose left in a New York boarding school while her father is away at war, Cuaron added to his remake a number of visually striking and imaginative fantasy sequences that probably – more than anything else – helped land him the coveted job directing what remains the best entry in the Harry Potter film series (Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban).
4. The Thing (1982), directed by John Carpenter – A remake of the 1951 sci-fi film The Thing From Another Planet, directed by Christian Nyby or Howard Hawkes – the true director remains a matter of debate. Another sci-fi/horror film to make the list, which just highlights the sad truth that many of the classic alien and monster movies of the past just don’t hold up well. Blame the liberals, if you must. Raise your hand if you’ve seen The Thing From Another Planet? Now raise your hand if you’ve seen The Thing. It may have been critically-reviled at the time, but The Thing has had staying power. That scene when Cooper gets his arms bitten off is still some wild stuff.
3. The Fly (1986), directed by David Cronenberg – A remake of Kurt Neumann’s 1958 B-movie. The original, with Vincent Price, is a campy classic. But, with the rare exception, most classic horror movies do not age well and Neumann’s The Fly is no exception. Cronenberg’s version is a sick, twisted gem of a film with some incredible make-up work and probably Jeff Goldblum’s best performance ever. If you’re still not convinced Cronenberg’s The Fly is a masterpiece, I got two words for you: inside-out baboons. ’nuff said.
2. Scarface (1983), directed by Brian DePalma – A remake of Howard Hawk’s 1932 gangster film. The original is still cool and, to 1930s audiences, unbelievably grisly and dark. It would take a lot more to jolt early 1980s audiences. Screenwriter Oliver Stone transported the setting of the film from Chicago to Miami and substituted bootleggers with narcotic traffickers. DePalma amped up the violence to insane levels. The result is an almost comically brutal movie that captures the dark side of the 1980s better than probably no other.
1. Night of the Living Dead (1990), directed by Tom Savini – A remake of the classic 1968 zombie film directed by George Romero. I know. “How dare you!” The 1990 remake of Night of the Living Dead was essentially supposed to be little more than a way for George Romero to recoup some of the money he lost after failing to secure distribution rights for his original film. Thanks to some of the best zombie special effects ever by master FX artist Tom Savini, the remake wound up being so much more than that. Talk all you want about the importance of the original film to the genre – and it is an important film. That doesn’t change the fact that the 1990 remake is a more exciting and visually-superior film than the original. Okay. Commence hating … now.