SEPTEMBER 29, 2010
To me, the best covers are the ones that sound like the singer's regular songs. Since I don't think he gets enough attention, I'll use David Gray's "Say Hello, Wave Goodbye" as an example. Apart from the length, one probably wouldn't be able to tell it was a cover, because it sounds so much like his usual melancholy singer-songwriter stuff. But it's a cover of a song by Soft Cell, of all bands, and theirs is very much a typical Soft Cell song. One isn't necessarily better than the other, because it comes down to what style of music you prefer. Let Me In is sort of like that - it's a good film, but whether it's "better" or "worse" comes down to a matter of preference... and I prefer the original.
Note - this review is spoiler heavy, because I assume you have seen the original. If you haven't, please go do that. But if you are unable to read, then I guess go see the remake. But then, I guess you can't read my telling you that.
Since the original is inarguably one of the best horror films of the decade (at the very least), I guess you can't really blame Matt Reeves for taking a "if it ain't broke..." approach to the material. All your favorite moments are there (unless you're a fan of neutered children - Abby says she's a boy but we are spared the visual proof this time around), and the beats are pretty much the same. The key differences are in the structure of the first act - we begin with Hakan (or just The Father here) in the hospital with acid burns, and then go back a couple of weeks to see how he got that way. The only thing this really succeeds in doing is momentarily giving folks the impression that maybe this won't be such a close copy after all. But before long we're in very (too?) familiar territory, and as the movie goes on it becomes more and more identical - the ice skating scene is practically shot for shot the same, for example.
The other sort of big change is that the angry drunk guy has been replaced with a cop, played by Elias Koteas (I got my wish! He has many scenes in this horror movie!). His final scene is just a straight copy of the drunk guy in the original, but otherwise he's doing different stuff, and adding a realistic police element that was largely missing from the original. I'm baffled why the death of a high school graduate would mean that he had to go speak to grade schoolers about being safe, but at least they were trying new things every now and then. But it's a bit awkward that he goes through the exact same motions as the original character - does he not have any other cops to talk to? And even though he is not in any way linked to the girl who starts to become a vampire and eventually burns to death (via sunlight) in the hospital, he's there when it happens, as the drunk guy was in the original. So even when things are changed, they're still pretty much the same.
The other changes are strictly visual based, such as the manner Abby attacks people, which is one of the movie's two big blunders. I get the idea of wanting to make her look like a force of nature when she attacks, but the overly digital "Abby" actually just looks like Yoda when he fought Dooku in Attack of the Clones, i.e. ridiculous. There's a scene in a tunnel that is downright hilarious (it's not supposed to be), and digital Abby also seems to grow about a foot taller when she climbs a tree later on. Didn't this girl just dive around kicking the shit out of fully grown men in Kick-Ass? And they over-do her vampire appearance - the makeup and eye color are silly looking (as is her Exorcist-esque "mad" voice, also ramped up from the subtly masculine voice in the original to a full blown, obviously male demon-sounding thing here).
Speaking of the visuals, Reeves also beats us over the head with the period setting - it's not enough for a Rubik's Cube and a few soundtrack choices to do it, now we have Ms. Pac-Man, candy store clerks dressed like Boy George, Reagan on the TV, etc. He also pulls a reverse Spielberg - you see all of the adults' faces just fine, but never once do we see Owen's mother clearly (and his father is limited to a voice on the phone this time).
The other big blunder is the score by the usually reliable Michael Giacchino. One of the greatest things about the original was how unnervingly QUIET it was, but it seems like the score is on almost nonstop throughout the movie, breaking only for the 80s songs (and I still don't get why either film has the period setting). The rare quiet moments are much appreciated, and unsurprisingly rank among the best moments in the film. The scene between Abby and Father before he goes out on that fateful botched kill is wonderfully handled, with Richard Jenkins delivering several pages' worth of information just with a look and a few words. I almost wish the movie was a prequel about him and her, because Jenkins is so damn haunting and powerful in those few scenes in which he appears (I'd have to go back to check for sure, but it seems like the character's role has been reduced). I also actually like his serial killer scenes - they're actually scary and tense, unlike the sort of black comic styled ones in the original (i.e. the dog sniffing around him).
The stuff between the two kids is wonderful as well. Even the annoying score can't ruin the touching and charming "bonding" scenes, such as when Owen explains Rubik's Cubes to her, or when she joins him in bed after Father's sacrifice. Both Chloe Moretz and Kody Smit-McPhee (The Road) are terrific, and they actually succeed in their acting where Reeves failed in his story-telling - they fully make the roles their own instead of mimicking with some occasional personal touches. This Abby is less introverted than the original's Eli, trying harder to be normal when she's with Owen. And Owen isn't as overly pathetic as Oskar was, though he is creepier with his American Psycho mask and telescope. It's weird to think, but this is the rare horror movie that actually works better as a "romance" than a horror film. Most of the vampire parts are botched in some way or other (though the climax at the pool is ramped up in a way I mostly enjoyed), but the bonding scenes complement and occasionally improve on the original.
One major exception, oddly enough, is the "Let me in" scene, which doesn't play nearly as effective here. Abby doesn't seem as hurt by Owen's refusal to say the words as the original Eli was, but instead sort of annoyed, and thus what was one of the more heartbreaking moments in the original just becomes an almost angry face-off here.
Another nice little touch was the idea that Conny (I forget the new bully's name) is clearly bullied by his own older brother. In the original, the brother gave him a little grief but it was just typical older brother playfulness, with Conny not really minding. Here we see the brother really picking on the Conny character, and he gets noticeably angry/embarrassed - much to Owen's delight. I wasn't too big on the fact that these guys were bigger than Owen, however. In the original they were all kind of the same size, which I think worked better.
At this point I'm kind of sick of comparing. Overall, I think the original is a better film, but the story is so good, the things they changed for the worse aren't enough to make this a bad movie (and honestly, for the most part I prefer the acting here). So again, if you really cannot fathom the idea of "reading" a movie, or dealing with a dub, then by all means you should be watching this, because you shouldn't be deprived of a wonderful tale. It could have been a disaster, and with minor exceptions, my only issues with it stem from a comparison with the original. It's not like Nightmare on Elm St where the movie is just a piece of shit regardless of how it compared to its predecessor - this IS a good movie, remake or not. I, like many others, was on the "F THIS MOVIE, IT'S POINTLESS" bandwagon when it was first announced, but a few early positive reviews got me to reconsider and give it a chance. I still don't QUITE see the point (even Reeves admits he didn't understand why they wanted to remake it), but like a good cover song, sometimes it's nice to experience something all over again. I dunno. Anyway, you should be going to see Hatchet II, so it doesn't matter.
What say you?
P.S. I was so happy to see a Hammer logo at the top of the film. It takes a cue from Marvel's film logos, but with old Hammer images forming the letters. So cool. Welcome back!