Alex writes about one of the lowest grossing major studio releases of 2010, and also about giving remakes a chance.
Last fall, Let Me In was released. I didn’t see it, and chances are you haven’t either. Why would I see it? I liked the 2008 Swedish version, Let the Right One In (a movie that was generally loved by everybody who saw it), so the idea of seeing the American version a mere two years later seemed kind of redundant. Let the Right One In was a movie that was well-liked by both media and tech-savvy people, so the message boards and websites I visit were seemingly furious about the mere prospect of this Swedish horror film being adapted for American audiences. After a decade of remake after remake and reboot after reboot, we have become conditioned to believe that all remakes of things we like are going to be awful and personally offend us with their brash decisions to change what we originally loved. I don’t know why I bought into this idea as it pertained to Let Me In, and yet I did. But I shouldn’t have.
Remakes and adaptations are always a place for knee-jerk reactions. Hearing a favourite property of yours is being adapted will likely make your ears perk up, but that same news will just as likely furrow your brow with anger. This is most often seen in adaptations of extremely popular literature, like the Harry Potter series* or The Da Vinci Code** or The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo***. People will be in an outrage of sorts, but will still go see the movie when it is released. And that’s why these movies will continue to be made: despite any lingering doubts or worries about an adaptation, studios trust their marketing department to make a compelling enough campaign to convince the naysayers to at least be curious about the movie. For remakes of other movies, however, things seem to be slightly different.
*Before the first film was released, parents and teachers were actually worried that seeing a definitive visual version of Hogwarts would kill the youth of the world’s collective imagination, proving once again that sometimes parents just don’t understand.
**Langdon’s hair never looked like that!
***You can’t cast a cute girl to play Salander!
Adapting a book into a movie is a completely different thing from remaking a movie into another movie. I’m not an idiot; I realize switching mediums from print to screen adds a lot to the property, while also taking away some of the perks of the printed page. This tends to make film remakes tougher to sell. If an already good movie is being remade, some will see the remake as unnecessary, because it will be tough to make a film better than the original already was. And rarely are remakes that don’t make radical changes better. When Psycho was remade by Gus Van Sant in 1998, its goal was to be as close as possible to the 1960 Alfred Hitchcock classic. By that point, most people had even forgotten the Robert Bloch book ever existed, so nobody was upset about big changes in Gus Van Sant’s version. Mostly because there weren’t any, but also because nobody saw it. For a remake to really succeed and be taken seriously, there tends to need to be some drastic chances taken to improve upon the original. When the British version of Death at a Funeral was remade for American audiences, the filmmakers introduced a lot of improvisation into an incredibly tightly written script; while this was a fairly big change, the movie oscillated between the British script and free-flowing improv so much that there was no consistent tone. But another part of the reason that movie was so heavily disliked was that the original British film was beloved by both critics and film fans who saw it. The American version might have had some funny moments on its own*, but it could never be liked because it was constantly being compared to the significantly better movie that came before it.
*Specifically, when Tracy Morgan was onscreen. I remember something about the Incredible Hulk being exceptionally funny.
Let Me In was always fighting an uphill battle for acceptance: it was a horror film, a vampire film, and Let the Right One In was a favourite among dedicated film fans in general. These are all very passionate, protective groups of fans, and are fans that will rarely change their opinion. It’s like people who loved Chasing Amy when they were fourteen but refuse to admit that it is exceptionally offensive towards both women and the gay community. A horror/vampire/film fan generally does the same thing, only they turn that denial dial up to eleven. And since these groups are, like the Kevin Smith contingent, prone to spending a lot of time on message boards and social media, they were able to convince other horror, vampire, and film fans to ignore Matt Reeves’ take on a movie they liked.
There are a few unfortunate facts about Let Me In, only one of which actually reads as something that should be considered a negative: it was one of the best-reviewed movies of the year, it was better than the film it was remaking, and it was one of the lowest-grossing major studio releases of 2010. People that saw it accepted that it was pretty good, but the problem is that almost nobody saw it. I didn’t initially, mostly because I was dumb enough to trust what the internet was telling me. I saw the original and thought it was decent, so what could a fairly faithful American remake possibly add to that? A lot, it turns out.
First of all, the film is now in English. While this seems like a point that could coax a middle-aged Jeff Foxworthy fan into liking Let Me In more than the original, it simply makes it a more enjoyable film for any English speaker. I don’t speak Swedish so, while I have no problems with reading subtitles, having the movie remade in my native language without any real dip in quality allows me to focus on the other good elements of the film, which are considerable. Like the Swedish film, the kids are well cast, but in the American version, they are simply better actors. Kodi Smit-McPhee (also good in The Road) and Chloe Moretz (also good in everything else I have seen her in) have pretty great chemistry, and when neither of them have blood dripping off them, god damn are they cute together. Their depiction of a first crush is so enjoyable that even a scene where Moretz’ head is literally momentarily falling apart is somehow adorable. If for no other reason, Moretz and Smit-McPhee make Let Me In a better film than its predecessor. But, of course, there are other reasons.
The supporting actors in this movie are incredible; the pairing of Smit-McPhee and Moretz was intriguing, but then the opening credits rolled and I also saw the names of two of my favourite character actors, Elias ‘Casey Jones but also other legitimate films’ Koteas and Richard ‘Nathaniel Fisher and also pretty much every other movie made since 1998’ Jenkins. Unsurprisingly, Koteas, Jenkins and the rest of the supporting players (the bully at school was such a DICK) were more enjoyable to me than their Swedish counterparts, as were the actual visuals of the movie.
Matt Reeves’ previous film was Cloverfield – a movie that, despite relying on what was essentially a gimmick, was pretty interesting visually. Not only does Let Me In cement that he has visual flair, but it proves he’s infinitely better at creating a beautiful image when he doesn’t have to worry about maintaining a handheld aesthetic. This movie is gorgeous, and the gas station car accident is one of my favourite visual sequences in recent memory. All of this combines to make a movie I really enjoyed, and one that you probably will too, so long as you don’t listen to an angry message board community first.
I’m still kind of pissed I ignored this movie when it was in theatres. I’m not a fan of the idea that I let people I’ve never met talk me out of seeing a movie, and I hate the fact that I had seemingly written off all remakes simply because other remakes were bad. I know their success rate isn’t particularly high, but when a remake can still produce something as good as Let Me In, we need to make sure we let the right one win.