Monday, November 15, 2010

Let Me In

I have never been a fan of horror movies. Most of them feature shallow protagonists with senseless plots. They also accentuate blood, violence and gore which usually exist in these movies for the sake of existing. Once in a while however, a decent horror film enters the cinemas which exceeds all our expectations.

Vampires are fascinating creatures and have been predominant in the horror genre for some time now and more so these days with the highly successful Twilight franchise and television series such as True Blood and The Vampire Diaries. Having not bought into these movies and series, Let Me In only brings me back to the 1994 horror drama, The Interview With the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles starring Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise. It tells an epic tale of a vampire's life and is known for its exploration into the emotional and "human" aspects of vampires. Rather than focussing on them as mythological or folkloric creatures, the movie shows that they are beings who also, like us, experience emotional torment, pain and suffering. Let Me In captures its audience by appealing to the basest of our needs; the need for affection and human contact.

Based on the 2008 Swedish cult horror feature directed by Thomas Alfredson, Let The Right One In and the novel of the same title, written by John Ajvide Lindqvist, the 2010 English feature entitled Let Me In tells the harrowing tale of a lonely adolescent boy who develops a relationship with a female child vampire.


The movie is set in 1983, in Los Alamos, New Mexico during winter. The dark and dreary winter night comes to life with the sound of sirens and the presence of light emanating from an ambulance racing through the woods. We learn that the ambulance is carrying a disfigured man (Richard Jenkins) who seems to be out of control. At the hospital, a policeman (Elias Koteas) begins to interrogate the disfigured man, and accuses him of being part of a series of gruesome murders which have have been mysteriously plaguing the small town. When the policeman is called away to answer a phonecall, a scream is heard and the policeman rushes into the room to find that the man has plummeted to his death from the window leaving behind an ambiguous note which simply reads: "I'm sory Abby."(sic)

We are then transported 2 weeks into the past where we find a young boy sitting on a jungle gym chewing his favourite candy when he is suddenly called in to have dinner by his mother. The boy, whom we come to know as Owen (Kodi-Smit McPhee) is an unhappy boy. The picture we get of Owen's life appears dismal and bleak. His misery stems from having an alcoholic mother (whose face we never get to see) and an absent father, as his parents are probably going through a divorce or separation. Things get worse for Owen at school as he is constantly tormented and bullied by his seniors, leaving no room for joy or comfort in his increasingly meaningless existence.

Owen often fantasizes about taking revenge on his tormentors. Sometimes, he wears a scary mask and pretends to be a vicious bully like his tormentors. Other times, he uses a tree as a stand-in for his tormentors and stabs it with vigorous conviction. He also spends his time peering into his neighbours' apartments. One night, while spying, Owen sees new neighbours moving in. A young girl, walks barefoot in the snow, followed by a much older man whom Owen assumes to be her father. During one of Owen's reveries, a girl mysteriously approaches him, identifying herself as Abby (Chloe Moretz). Despite Abby's insistence that they can never be friends, they are inexplicably and unavoidably drawn to each other and the most meaningful relationship in Owen's life starts to unfold. Abby supports and encourages Owen to stand up to his tormentors and Owen in turn provides comfort for Abby, who always seems exhausted, sad and fragile.

Meanwhile, we are exposed to a brutal series of murders and a horrific secret is exposed. We see Abby's father stalking and killing a man, exsanguinating his body and storing his blood in a large plastic container. It becomes quite obvious to the audience what the blood is for when Abby's father is harshly reprimanded by a loud and monstrous voice for spilling the blood. When a second attempt to secure blood from a particular unsuspecting victim goes awry and Abby's father gets involved in a car crash, he douses his face and hands with acid so as to preserve his identity and protect Abby. The story then merges into the present where dark and shocking secrets are revealed as we learn the true identities of Owen's mysterious neighbours. Abby and Owen's relationship continues to blossom. When Owen learns of Abby's secret, he becomes frightened, but he continues to protect Abby despite his fear that Abby might be evil. As the story draws to a close, Owen must choose whether to continue down a path of self-destruction or to sever all ties with the only person who has brought any meaning to his life.

I never thought that a horror movie, featuring a vampire could be chilling, compelling, touching and brutally tragic all at the same time. Most horror movies are plastered with blood and gore, and contain the most ridiculous plots. Let Me In shows that there is hope yet for the horror genre. Although bloody and gory scenes are present, they are always justified artistically. The success of this movie however, is mainly attributed to the acting talents of the two young leads. Chloe Moretz delivers a startling and flawless performance as a vampire who is living a conflicted and afflicted life. Her astounding portrayal as a vampire struggling to reconcile the sad, lonely and frail little girl who desperately craves for comfort and affection, with the blood-thirsty, brutal and savage creature when she needs to feed certainly deserves recognition and praise here. I was thoroughly impressed by her performance in Kick-Ass and it is evident from this performance that a promising future is in store for this young actress. Kodi Smit-McPhee was last seen in his performance as the son to the lead in the post-apocalyptic feature, The Road. McPhee was applauded by critics for his performance in The Road, but his performance in Let Me In garners him (in my opinion) the honour of being one of the most accomplished child actors today.

Director, Matt Reeves of Cloverfield manages to produce a movie which is well-crafted and shockingly tragic. A close to flawless execution makes Let Me In one of the best horror movies I have watched to date. Provocative, touching and highly emotional. If the movie had one flaw, it would be the use of CGI effects to heighten Abby's monstrosity and savagery when she turns. The movie could have done better without them, though I understand Reeves' use of them to placate certain audiences. The cinematography and lighting tie in very well in conveying the eerie and desolate atmosphere of the cold, lonely and unaccepting world that Owen and Abby live in. A gem to the horror genre and an unforgettable cinematic experience for movie-goers who are not just looking for a good horror movie, but a good movie, period.