The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

August 1, 2011

Mark Schuster, movie review: American remake improves upon spooky Swedish original

By Frankie Meyer
Globe Columnist

JOPLIN, Mo. — “Let Me In”

On the surface, the production of “Let Me In” is an example of the worst kind of Hollywood money-grubbing.

An excellent and unique vampire movie, “Let the Right One In,” comes out of Sweden to almost universal critical and popular acclaim. Less than two years later, plans for an American remake are announced, to almost universal critical and popular derision. Why remake something that was perfect in the first place? Can’t they leave well enough alone?

Apparently, they couldn’t. Can they ever? But for once, the remake does everything it should: It pays respect to the original and, in my opinion, improves upon it in every way.

“Let Me In” is moodier, more atmospheric, and filled with a palpable sense of dread from the moment the opening credits begin to roll.

The story is your classic boy meets girl yarn. Young outcast Owen is smitten with Abby, the new girl next door. They have oodles in common: they both like puzzles, they both have difficulty making friends, and they are both 12 years old.

The only catch is that Abby has been twelve for a very, very long time. And she doesn’t wear shoes in the snow. And she smells bad when she hasn’t eaten in a while. And she can never meet Owen in the daylight.

That the central vampire character is a child throws us off guard. That she is not spared at all the bleak desperation of the vampire “life” makes her sympathetic.

If she is exposed to sunlight, she doesn’t sparkle like a thousand diamonds as in the silly tween fantasy of “Twilight,” she bursts into flames. This is as it should be. Abby is dangerous, even to Owen, and even as we are happy to watch them draw together, we know Owen is heading down a road darker than he could possibly imagine.

The anchors of both films are the performances of the child leads. In the American version, these are Kodi Smit McPhee (“The Road”) as Owen, and Chloe Grace Moretz (“Kick-Ass”) as Abby. McPhee makes a somehow more pathetic Owen, and Moretz a more clearly defined Abby. The film rests solidly on their narrow shoulders. The Swedish leads were good, but the American leads are just, somehow, better.

All of this is subjective, and by all means I encourage you to watch both films and decide for yourself. That “Let Me In” manages to not do a disservice to the original film and novel is a great surprise. That it ranks solidly as not only one of the best vampire movies I’ve ever seen, but also one of the best horror movies, is my great pleasure.



“Insidious”

The tagline of “Insidious” -- “It’s not the house that’s haunted” -- is technically correct while also being misleading. It’s not just the house that’s haunted. Everything about “Insidious” is haunted, but in a lyrical, almost classical sense that recalls the great spook-fests of old.

That this marvel of restraint comes from one of the creative minds behind the “Saw” franchise, a multi-film gore fest that established the “torture porn” subgenre, is telling. After all, things can only go so far in any direction before what was once considered vogue is suddenly clichŽ and, even worse, boring.

“Insidious,” while you can’t shake the basic familiarity of the story, is certainly not boring.

The overall serenity of the Lambert family is shattered when young son Dalton inexplicably falls into a coma. Similar to the progression of “The Exorcist,” Dalton’s parents exhaust every possible medical option before finally turning to a spiritual advisor for help.

Things are scarier in “Insidious” before the inevitable explanation of what is really happening, and while the film approaches camp in the final act, it manages not to go flying off the rails, holding things together long enough to provide a satisfying conclusion.

“Insidious” is almost vengefully spooky, and uses the tools it chooses to deftly fry nerves without resorting to excessive gore or profanity. A true standout in a genre that thrives on the communal experience of viewing in groups, “Insidious” is a perfect focal point for an adventurous family movie night.