Return of the (Tween) Vampire

09/29/2010 1:00 PM |

Let Me In
Directed by Matt Reeves

It’s not arbitrarily that Let Me In, a surprisingly delicate and usually tactful remake of a Swedish vampire neo-classic, is set in Los Alamos, the birthplace of America’s largest-scale violence. Director Reeves, who made his name helming Cloverfield, pulls off the impossible: not only does he retain the sympathetic portrait of pre-pubescence-the universality-from Tomas Alfredson’s sensitive Let the Right One In, but he reworks its Scandinavian themes to address our own country’s recent political history. (Both films are based on the novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist.)

The Road‘s remarkably vulnerable Kodi Smit-McPhee and Kick-Ass‘s Chloe Moretz star as two plump-lipped pre-adolescents on the verge of a pre-sexual relationship. Kodi’s also on the verge of puberty, but Chloe, well, she’s also 12 years old, but she’s been 12 years old for a while: she’s a vampire, dependent on blood-meals usually collected by the older man (Richard Jenkins, phenomenally understated) posing as her father. (Reeves eventually fills in more of the back-story gaps that Alfredson left unresolved.) Wearing a trash-bag mask, he slits the throats of unsuspecting victims, hanging their bodies from forest trees, collecting the draining blood in a plastic jug.

Meanwhile, the director has said he tapped his own memories of tweenhood to lend the film emotional credibility, though the time period signifiers often feel culled more from I Love the ’80s than personal experience (except the students sniggering at Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet). Let Me In‘s bullying is often visceral, as when the girl with budding breasts is harassed in a swimming pool, or when Smit-McPhee fantasizes about revenge on his tormentors, brandishing a knife in front of his bedroom mirror, recycling their taunts.

Lest you get lost in these dramas, soaked in honey light and lonesome, wintry atmosphere, ominous orchestral thunderclaps from composer Michael Giacchino remind you of the movie’s macabre side, which Reeves reinforces with his restrained, withholding, mystery-deepening approach. The way he easily vacillates between these two styles-between bildungsroman and horror, between puppy love and splatterfest-recalls Clooney and Kaufman’s Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, whose dueling game-show garishness and European espionage underlined contrasting impulses of American life: the violence that upholds gaudy prosperity. Let Me In does something similar, exposing the two polarized but codependent sides of Reagan’s America: sad, working-class outcasts and those who grotesquely murder innocents. Those, that is, who feed off of blood-vampires, presidents, whatever.

Opens October 1