American remakes of foreign films are always tricky. If you know and respect the original, chances are you already have your guard up about the Hollywoodization. If you do go, it’s inevitable that you’ll start checklisting the differences, rather than giving it a chance—which is perfectly understandable, given how many of them come up short. Horror movies are particularly vulnerable to failures in translation—for every Ring or Grudge that hits, there’s an Invisible that no one sees, an unwelcoming Uninvited, or a Pulse that just doesn’t have one.
In the context of this junkyard, remaking the Swedish vampire film Let the Right One In is like venturing onto hallowed ground to vandalize tombstones. I put it on my Top Ten of 2008 list—and you don’t mess with the list. I was, however, surprisingly receptive to it. The writer/director, Matt Reeves, made the hit Cloverfield, which captured the “reality” zeitgeist in creature features as well as anything. We think alike: When I read that a remake was in the works, I felt immediately that the great character actor Richard Jenkins should play the world-weary “father” in the movie, and what do you know? From my pen to his ear.
Plus, added bonus, Let Me In marks the first release from Britain’s Hammer Films in more than 30 years. I love Hammer horror; Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee were like uncles to me in my childhood, which should tell you something about my misspent youth (see them on Turner Classic Movies all this month as TCM devotes Friday nights to “Hammer Time”). Fans will thrill to its new logo, a Marvel-ized animation that has all your favorites streaking by. What a showstopper, and the movie is only 30 seconds old.
How was the rest of it? Pretty damn good, actually, and not just by the low standards of its ilk. Reeves has been extremely conscientious bringing the film Stateside, not just dropping the subtitles and switching it to English, and not being wholly faithful, either, which is for the best. The material needs breathing room, and he’s tweaked, altered, and cut a few things that benefit from tweaking, alteration, and cutting. (Like, cats. You know.) Not so much, though, that what we have is My BFF the Vampire, which was every admirer’s nightmare. Take, for example, the addition of a police officer to the story (an addition that I understand is derived from the novel on which Let the Right One In is based, which, my bad, I have yet to read). If Reeves had fallen down on the job, the cop (played by Elias Koteas on a very bad hair day) would research “vampires,” have a partner who gets killed during the investigation, etc. As it is, while he has a function, he gets little detection done and exists on the periphery of the movie. Reeves doesn’t even give him a name.
Taking its cue from Let the Right One In, Let Me In (try it out a few times, roll it off your tongue, adjust to it) is if anything even more understated. The setting could not have been better chosen—the early 80s timeframe has been retained, as Reagan preaches the value of piety on TV while Bowie urges us to put on our red shoes and dance the blues on the radio, and we’re in Los Alamos, N.M., that most secretive of locations, as the winter snow falls.
Thematically and stylistically, Reeves’ defining move is to keep all of the characters in isolation from each other—except the two 12-year-olds at the center of the story, Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee, off The Road) and his new neighbor in his anonymous apartment complex, Abby (Chloe Grace Moretz), who consequently develop a spiderweb of a bond. We never get a good look at Owen’s mother, who is always on the phone or running off to a church meeting, oblivious to her son’s initiation into evil. Owen is already flirting with the devil; beset by bullies at school, he play-acts killing, something Abby and her mysterious dad, who provides for her care and feeding in unusual ways, are well versed in.
The movie makes excellent use of the young performers’ preadolescence. Smit-McPhee is at an awkward phase, somewhat girlish and unformed, an easy kid to torment but also a magnet of innocence for otherworldly forces. If I hadn’t known that Moretz had played Hit Girl in Kick-Ass, I would not have recognized her here. In contrast to the gender blurring of the original Moretz plays Abby as a normal girl her age, with yearnings apart from bloodlust. Apart from the switched hair colorings the two generate a different chemistry than their Swedish counterparts as they begin a twilight relationship with the assistance of Morse code through their walls—different, but equally compelling. Cinematography (Grieg Fraser) and production design (Ford Wheeler) further conspire to make a wonderland of a barren playground where the children meet, accentuating their fateful union.
Jenkins, meanwhile, is also purposefully outcast from the story, yet makes every fleeting minute count. He figures in a harrowing car crash that is the one spectacular moment in the film, and satisfyingly “American.” Where the movie is lackluster is where our remakes usually excel—the makeup is a mixed bag, and Abby’s digitally “undercranked” movements when in her malnourished vampiric state are more toylike than terrifying.
With the essentials locked in place, however, these are small matters. If I had to pick a favorite component to Let Me In’s success, I’d say Michael Giacchino’s shivery score, one of the best provided for a horror film (or any film) in recent memory. He’s a magical composer, and his music sinks right into your bones, as it does in Rosemary’s Baby or other genre classics. If you’ve seen Let the Right One In, you’ll find much to appreciate in this respectful adaptation; if you haven’t, you’ll want to see it, making Let Me In a double triumph.
[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/rdK0FL_o-f0" width="600" height="344" allowfullscreen="true" fvars="fs=1" /]
Queue Tip: Not as many viewers got to Get Him to the Greek as Universal hoped for this summer but that should change now that it’s arrived on DVD and Blu-ray. Spinning off Russell Brand’s dissipated rocker Aldous Snow from Forgetting Sarah Marshall, the film reteams him with Marshall co-star Jonah Hill, here playing Aaron, a nebbishy record company employee. Tyrannized by his boss to come up with a surefire attention getter, Aaron jets off to London to retrieve Aldous for an appearance on The Today Show and a subsequent 10th anniversary concert in Los Angeles commemorating the gig that made him a legend.
But terrible career choices, several monkeys on his back, and the same outrageous narcissism Aldous exhibited in his first screen appearance complicate the journey for Aaron. Along for the ride are Elisabeth Moss and Rose Byrne, loosened up from Mad Men and Damages respectively, as the frustrated girlfriends of Aaron and Aldous, Colm Meaney as Aldous’ dad, the kind to give a kid issues, and, best of all, Sean Combs as the fire-breathing mogul. Combs earned my undying gratitude for helping revive A Raisin in the Sun on Broadway in 2004—but if you saw that otherwise exquisite production there or on TV a couple of years ago you know he was no Sidney Poitier in the lead. Here he can just be a wacked-out version of his entrepreneurial self, and he’s hilarious, particularly when plaguing Aaron in his Aldous-induced drug delirium—little Combs heads pop up on the screen talking nonsense (“Whee!”). In the film’s funniest scene, a lengthy debauch in Las Vegas, everyone falls to fighting, while a stoned Combs comments on the carpeted walls of the hotel suite, describing their color and texture as “werewolf hide” and “old pussy from the 70s.” Stick around through the end credits for a final brush with Combs.
And Brand and the affable Hill are good, too. This is another production from the Judd Apatow funhouse, from Sarah Marshall writer/director Nicholas Stoller, so there are plenty of uncomfortable but not mean-spirited laughs. If you think Aldous using Aaron as a drug mule in an airport is funny, then Get Him to the Greek is the comedy for you—if you don’t mind the subsequent, silhouetted scene of Aldous removing the goods from Aaron’s heinie. The anything-for-a-laugh excess, including the ridiculous (yet sadly credible) songs, is balanced by more poignant scenes of Aldous coming to terms with his excesses, which Brand delivers on. He’s something of an acquired taste for audiences and I figure I’ve acquired him, though it’s hard to picture his upcoming Arthur as being anything more than a PG-13 version of his Aldous.
Deleted and extended scenes that were wisely used as supplements and not cycled back into the movie are among the goodies here. Besides the 109-minute theatrical cut (an A-list, 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation) the editions include a 114-minute unrated cut that does feels its length—team Apatow has however cut back on the extravagant running times of Knocked Up and Funny People. With tons of making-of featurettes and an around-the-campfire commentary stolen by an off-the-cuff Hill, the special editions of Get Him to the Greek do everything except smuggle you into the movie. Whee!