Let me in

Life is unfair to middle children and remakes.

If Matt Reeves’ vampire coming-of-age story “Let Me In” had been made before the Swedish original–Tomas Alfredson’s “Let the Right One In”–would we automatically think it was the better of the two?

It didn’t work that way and we’ll never know. What I can say? “Let Me In,” written and directed by “Cloverfield”’s Reeves, underlines and capitalizes so much of what was wonderfully understated about the original. Still, this creepy vampire flick, set in 1983 small town New Mexico, is better than most horror films that Hollywood will release anytime soon.

Alfredson’s 2008 original has a real genius for holding sick or horrifying scenes and daring you to laugh. A great example: a sweet dog stumbles onto a private moment in the woods. The killer is draining blood from a victim, and the fluffy white critter comes and sits, as if he is waiting for a ball to be thrown. In comparison, the same scene in «Let Me In»is shot strictly for its shock value, effective but one-dimensional. Reeves also misses what I assumed about the original, that the child vampire (Chloe Grace Moretz from “Kick Ass”) is a psychological projection of the disturbed twelve-year-old boy (Kodi Smit-McPhee) that enables his Carrie-like vengeance on the bullies around him.

I disliked the first half of this one, when I only noticed what was missing. Then something happened. It suddenly got good. Reeves does a better job at crafting touching moments, and the film is high on creepiness that’s generated fairly—through character and place and the fears of growing up. Will loving a girl free you, or change you, or enslave you? No boy going through puberty knows.

What I do like about the new one is the efficiency. The Swedish version had a subplot about aging hippies with an ending that didn’t pay off for the limping along. It disappears. The cinematography and production design are more elaborate, all darkness and halos of light spooky and memorable. Reeves and his crew show a real talent for transforming a closed door into more than a closed door.

A couple of pet peeves: Why choose Los Alamos, New Mexico? If you’re interested in small-town metaphors (rather than aimless Cold War metaphors), why choose the home of the National Laboratory and one of the most educated small towns in the country? When the boy tells the girl that no one ever moves there, it’s pretty funny. Everyone who lives there moves there. Unless Los Alamos High School has an unusually great program in nuclear science.

The second pet peeve: You know those painfully over-researched eighteenth-century period pieces where everything is too much like a painting? Where the dresses are too clean and too perfect and everyone has nice teeth? “Let Me In” is that to the eighties. It’s loudly full of Ms. Pac-Mans and Now and Laters. And the music? Eleven years old in New Mexico didn’t listen to Freur. You were lucky if you had Oingo Boingo. Let’s all take a breath and admit that all they played was Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam.

But I call them pet peeves for a reason. They’re pet peeves, not deal-breakers. In the end, you won’t find a better October horror film this year. Happy Halloween!

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