Matt Reeves' remake of the Swedish kiddie-vampire flick Let the Right One In is faithful enough that those who scoped the 2008 original can save their pennies. Reeves re-sets the story in 1983 New Mexico, where 12-year-old Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee, of The Road) lives a miserable life, shuttling between school bullies and his depressed single mom. But one night, a girl named Abby (Chloe Moretz, of Kick-Ass) turns up at his apartment complex, and reluctantly becomes his friend. Her reasons for not pursuing the friendship are obvious to us -- and likely related to nasty bit of horror that opens the film -- but Owen is thrilled to have a friend, even a weird one. (Abby's warning that she is "not a girl" sails right over sad, sweet, lonely Owen's head.)
The film has some bloody sequences, but nothing on the scale of a contemporary gore-fest. Reeves is aiming for unease and a certain melancholy, whether it's in the life of a tiny but brutal vampire or a defenseless little boy. I'm pleased that Reeves kept the original's broody, slower vibe, and didn't feel the need to overly explain the story, which more often shows than tells. He also lucks out with two young actors, who ably carry the film. (The great Richard Jenkins has a small role.)
One of the strengths of the Swedish film was the effective use of that country's harsh winter landscape. Unfortunately here, Reeves simply buries Los Alamos under loads of artificial snow, rather than exploit the Southwest's own stark terrain.
I'd give the edge to the Swedish film, simply for being first (and for using real snow) and for better artistry all 'round. Reeves also dials back the sexuality that gave the original some extra frisson. Besides the trucked-in winter, I found some of the explicit attack scenes to be rather clunky; the violence works much better when it's slightly off-screen and not forefronted. But overall Reeves' film is a respectful remake that should win some new fans of thoughtful horror, a genre I'd prefer to see more of stateside. Starts Fri., Oct. 1.