Oct. 1 2010 12:00 AM

When the vampire next door says ‘Let Me In,’ do it

art4899
    (THURSDAY, Sept. 30) — Abby is one of those friends your
    parents warned you about. Sure, she looks nice enough — but there’s something,
    well, strange about her. She’s the new girl in town who doesn’t like to talk
    about herself. She says she’s 12, “more or less.” She walks
    around barefoot in the middle of winter, claiming, “I don’t really get cold.”


    She’s also hungry all the time, but not for candy or burgers
    or anything else that the typical junior high kids eat. She prefers fresh
    blood.


    But to Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee), Abby’s lonely,
    introspective, often-bullied neighbor, Abby (Chloe Grace Moretz) is undeniably
    fascinating. Even when she tries to keep him at arm’s length — “Just so you
    know, I can’t be your friend,” she warns him — Owen still seeks her out.
    They’re apparently the only two kids in a dismal-looking apartment complex, and
    it’s 1983, the heyday of Izod sweaters, Culture Club and Ms. Pac-Man; who’d
    want to face that era alone?


    “Let Me In” transfers the Swedish shocker “Let the Right One
    In” to American soil, specifically the New Mexico town of Los Alamos,
    birthplace of the nuclear program. Yet the real dangers in director Matt
    Reeves’ assured, unsettling tale come not from science, but from the
    supernatural: Abby is a vampire, and not one of those sophisticated, elegant
    creatures of the night we’ve come to know from the “Twilight” series. She’s
    been cursed with a voracious appetite, and she’s not particularly particular
    when it’s snacktime. Even after Owen learns her secret, he’s surprisingly OK
    with it. Obviously, misery loves company.


    Thriller fans might scurry away from the prospect of a
    “Right One” reworking the way bloodsuckers hide from sunlight. But “Let Me In”
    does a remarkably fine job of establishing the same atmosphere of eerie
    isolation and longing that permeated director Tomas Alfredson’s earlier film.
    It’s also unexpectedly elegant, considering the jiggly hand-held videography of
    Reeves’ love-it-or-hate-it “Cloverfield.” The lighting and cinematography are
    stunning, from the weird, copper-colored glow on the snow in the apartment
    courtyard, to a breathtaking shot of Abby’s guardian (Richard Jenkins, as a
    sort of Renfield to her Countess Dracula) trying to make a hasty getaway after
    a carjacking goes awry.


    Moretz, the scene-stealer from “(500) Days of Summer” and
    “Kick-Ass,” and Smit-McPhee (who played Viggo Mortensen’s son in “The Road”)
    are ideally cast. Their beautifully understated performances provide the story
    with real poignancy and resonance; even if all the horror elements were
    removed, this would still be an insightful picture of adolescent anguish. When
    Owen makes a mistake that almost kills Abby, the moment is both horrifying and
    heartwrenching, not exactly what you might expect from a movie with an
    impressive body count.


    Reeves co-wrote the screenplay with John Ajvide Lindquist,
    author of the novel that inspired “Let the Right One In.” That combination
    results in a film that’s largely faithful to the source material while
    maintaining its own flavor and humor. Rare is the remake that can pull off that
    trick.


    An even bigger surprise: The vicious attacks on Owen by his
    classmates are more frightening and startling than Abby’s ambushing of her
    prey. Living next door to a vampire is an unsettling prospect, but having to
    face the terrors of junior high? That’ll really make your blood run cold.


    Follow me on Twitter: twitter.com/jamessanford