A fresh take on a stale subject

Posted: Thursday, October 07, 2010

If you think it's tough being a lonely child, try doing it for eternity. Abby has and she really isn't having a whole lot of fun with it.

This is a fantastic setup for breathing new interest into an increasingly familiar subject: vampires. With "Let Me In," writer and director Matt Reeves masterfully shows how a coming-of-age story can transcend genres. Reeves' slick, violent monsters enhance the film's realistic subject, rather than hamming it up.

Owen is the boy in this movie. He's alone at school, where he's constantly bullied, and even more alone at home, where his mother has too much other drama in her life to pay attention to him.

One day his new neighbor, a 12-year-old girl, reveals herself to him and they know they share a bond in their loneliness. She's understanding and loyal. Still, Abby is reluctant to talk anywhere outside their front lawn - and for good reason. As a vampire, she can't develop attachments. After all, she'll either rip a person to shreds if she gets hungry enough or simply outlive her friends by centuries. This is made clear in the character of her adult companion, once a childhood friend as Owen has become. Now he's unhappy and still cares for her in the sense of getting slaughters for her to feed on. Not the future every kid dreams of, but is the chance for companionship worth it?

"Let Me In" is based on the Swedish film "Let the Right One In," which is based on a novel of the same name. The two movies are remarkably similar in style, yet have some differences in tone. In some instances, the choreography of carnage is altered, but it's still chilling in the same way.

Some of the more adult themes in the original are toned down in the American version of the film, but they're definitely not absent. After all, 12 is the age you start getting really curious about the opposite sex. This interest is more implied than shown here, and that's all that's needed to get the point across.

The title itself has a dual meaning. In vampire lore, vampires cannot enter a home unless invited; a nice safeguard if you ever meet one less friendly than Abby.

More literally, Owen has the choice to let this unorthodox friend into his life, and it's not an easy choice. He may crave the connection he feels to this other soul, but is it worth it knowing she's not human? She shares his feelings but is still a dangerous killer. Is that better than no friend at all? Can a vampire still be the right one?

When you're 12 and lonely, you're willing to look past certain flaws, such as an annoying laugh or the tendency to ravage people's necks and suck out their blood.

One of the better things about this movie is that it seems small. The best horror films are the ones that feel tight, with few characters without too much ground to cover. Reeves takes a hard step back from his other creature feature, "Cloverfield," to give "Let Me In" an almost independent film kind of feel in the way its shot.

"Let Me In" is certainly engaging without being too intense. Horror fans will love it, as every beast needs roots. The best horror flicks keep up the struggle for everyone, even the ones with fangs, rather than letting them run wild. Even though vampires are bloody little suckers, this is a delicate look at the outsiders' world.

Contact reporter Jonathan Grass at 523-2276 or at jonathan.grass@juneauempire.com.

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