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updated: 1/31/2011 6:28 PM

Vampire remake 'Let Me In' lacks original's soul

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  • Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee, left) befriends a young vampire named Abby (Chloe Grace Moretz) in "Let Me In."

    Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee, left) befriends a young vampire named Abby (Chloe Grace Moretz) in "Let Me In."

By Raymond Benson

It's not easy being a 12-year-old vampire in this day and age. You have to live your life er, death on the road, moving from place to place, never staying long and keeping out of sight. It helps if you have a human companion who can find victims for you, drain their blood and bring home the bacon, so to speak.

That's the way it is for Abby (Chloë Grace Moretz), who tells her new friend Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee) that she's been 12 years old "for a very long time."

A Hollywood remake of the excellent Swedish vampire drama, "Let the Right One In," which in turn was based on the best-selling novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist, "Let Me In" follows the original faithfully and respectfully, even down to repeating some shots and much of the translated dialogue.

When Abby first meets Owen in the rundown playground-courtyard of their seedy apartment building in snowy Los Alamos, New Mexico, she tells him, "I can't be your friend." But of course, she does. Later, in a poignant moment after Abby "flies" to Owen's upstairs bedroom window, climbs in, disrobes and slips into bed with him, the shocked but delighted boy shyly asks, "Will you go steady with me?" Both were memorable scenes from the original.

However, writer/director Matt Reeves (who brought us the successful monster movie "Cloverfield") tries a little too hard to remain loyal to the initial film and simultaneously deliver "enhancements" to the more shocking, violent aspects of the story.

Reeves can't have it both ways.

Unfortunately, the director has chosen to ratchet-up the violence and gore for pure shock value. Today's horror film audiences expect it, so the director obliges by showing us Abby's attacks in all their CGI glory. After all, this is the first release from Hammer Films in 40 years. (Hammer was the British studio that brought us Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing in all those wonderful Dracula and Frankenstein films of the late 1950s and '60s.) One special-effects heavy sequence does superbly stand out -- it involves a hospital room and sunlight.

The real problem, though, is perhaps a question of being "lost in translation." The Swedish film was an appropriately cold, sterile and meditative picture that emphasized the isolation of its characters as a metaphor for vampirism. It was set in a frigid, ice-covered small town somewhere in Sweden.

"Let Me In" is also set in a wintry climate, but it's all too apparent that Reeves is attempting to emulate the special world of the original film without infusing it with the soul of the stark Scandinavian environment that was so important to "Let the Right One In." There is a distinct European sensibility that is missing from the American version. An intangible, subconscious remoteness found only in Swedish motion pictures -- and so vital to their overall impact -- simply isn't there. The coldness of the original film was what elicited a lasting, emotional punch; the remake is simply cold.

Nevertheless, audiences unfamiliar with "Let the Right One In" might have a good time with the remake. The picture looks good as photographed by Greig Fraser and is hauntingly scored by Oscar-winner Michael Giacchino. For the most part, it is well acted by the film's two young stars -- although Abby's character isn't as well developed as her counterpart in the Swedish picture. The young and talented Miss Moretz, who sliced and diced victims as Hit Girl in "Kick-Ass," continues her bloody carnage even more violently here. One wonders if the actress will soon need a psychiatrist.

"Let Me In" is not a bad remake of a great foreign film; it's just not a particularly remarkable one.

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