When kids turn evil


Let Me In (MA). Director: Matt Reeves. Starring: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Chloe Moretz, Richard Jenkins, Dylan Kening. Running time: 115 minutes.

Chloe Moretz, Let Me InThis is the kind of stylish, intelligent film that ought to give 'horror' a good name. Let Me In is based upon the novel and screenplay Let the Right One In, written by Swedish author John Ajvide Lindqvist, here re-envisioned by American filmmaker Matt Reeves.

It is a vampire film, but only occasionally gruesome. More often, it utilises atmosphere and the power of suggestion to create unease — as the best horror films do. Most importantly, the horrific elements are built into the framework of a powerful drama; this is a coming-of-age story, thematically muscular and with well-rounded characters embodied by strong performances.

Set in a working class suburb of Los Alamos, New Mexico, the story centres on Owen (Smit-McPhee), the child of bitterly divorced parents. Friendless, awkward, and a perennial victim of a particularly sadistic school bully named Kenny (Kening), Owen seems to have found his soulmate when an enigmatic young girl, Abby (Moretz), moves into the flat next door. Sensing a fellow misfit, Owen is drawn to her.

Let Me In is at its heart a chaste love story between these two pre-adolescents, portrayed with depth and warmth by the talented young actors. Their romance is, in all likelihood, doomed, due to the fact that Abby is secretly a vampire; the man (Jenkins) with whom she lives is not her father, but a companion-cum-servant who commits murders in order to supply her with blood for sustenance.

In this context, Reeves' recast title takes on a double meaning, evoking both the 'rule' that vampires must be invited before entering someone else's dwelling, and the need for trust in friendships and romantic relationships. For Owen, growing up and growing close to Abby requires learning the truth about her, and discerning how best to assimilate his knowledge of her dark inclinations.

Let Me In is also a cautionary tale about children's need for strong adult role models. This is something Owen lacks. His single, working mother often leaves him to his own devices, and has embraced a religious ritualism in which he finds no solace. His father, meanwhile, is absent. At one stage, Owen calls him in a state of despair, with desperate questions — regarding the existence of evil, no less — but his father, preoccupied with hurt and bitterness towards his ex-wife, barely hears his son's pain, and fails him utterly.

Lacking the wisdom of experience and positive adult role models, Owen is guided by a yearning for companionship, and perhaps by a budding adolescent libido. These are both very human impulses, but in a 12-year-old they are no substitute for wise adult guidance or a fully formed moral compass.

Abby, despite her chronological age (unspecified but much older than 12), is also still a child, with a child's restrictively close view of her own dark nature. She has a necessarily corruptive effect upon Owen.

This is laid bare when Owen witnesses for the first time Abby's monstrous potential. As she feeds upon an unlucky human, he raises his hand to grasp either the victim's reaching hand, or the handle of the open door. He is witnessing an evil act committed by a person who is not evil per se; the choice he faces is to either intervene against evil, or close the door to it. By whose standard is the choice he makes wrong?

In truth, there are no wholly bad characters in the film. Even Kenny the bully is revealed to be the victim of his own bullying older brother, whose treatment of him bears no small resemblance to Kenny's treatment of Owen; an indication of inherited abusive behaviour.

Reeves extends this nuanced view of human nature to Abby's companion. In Lindqvist's novel, Håkan is a pedophile that the childlike vampire has seduced into becoming her servant. In the American film there is a tenderness to the relationship, and a hint that his affection for her began when he, too, was a child.

Sanitised, perhaps, for American audiences, this departure from the source material is also a thematic double-edged sword. It saves the character from being the monster he is in the novel, but also offers a bleak premonition of the consequences of the corrupted path upon which Owen has chosen to embark with the vampire he loves. 

Tim KroenertTim Kroenert is Assistant Editor of Eureka Street. He is a contributor to Inside Film and The Big Issue magazines, and his articles and reviews have appeared in Melbourne's The Age and Brisbane's Courier-Mail

Topic tags: Let Me In, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Chloe Moretz, Let The Right One In, John Ajvide Lindqvist



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Existing comments

Thanks for this insightful review; I found the 2008 original film fascinating and am looking forward to catching this remake. I find Eureka Street an excellent guide to what's worth catching with new cinematic releases.

Barry Gittins | 07 October 2010  

Likewise enjoyed the original version, and look forward to the remake. Tim, as always great review - pithy and considered.

Ben Davies | 08 October 2010  

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