JANUARY 2, 2012
Since it’s so short, I don’t know how much I can possibly write about Don’t Let Him In; its 79 minute runtime includes slow/spaced out end credits, an opening title sequence, an unnecessary closing cast roll, and even an outtake. Add in the fact that it’s somewhat built around a twist that is revealed just a bit past the halfway mark and that it’s the sort of movie that’s enjoyable enough to watch but largely dissipates from your brain as soon as it’s done, and there really isn’t a lot to write a review around. Plus, come on, we all just want to get back to Skyrim anyway.
As I said, it’s a watchable flick, with some surprise deaths and a morbid sense of humor - an out of nowhere outdoor art class scene features a terrific punchline. It also has the novelty of presenting a “friends go to a cabin in the woods” scenario but populating it with adults – one of the guys looks like he’s about 40! It’s good to know that grown men and women are just as susceptible to surprise slashers as the usual teens and college kids. Also, the resident asshole guy ISN’T a friend or even wanted there – no one seems to like him much but he tags along due to ulterior motives. So many of these movies have a guy that is just a giant asshole and you can’t understand why they brought him along or why they even hung out with him in the first place (on occasion, some just acknowledge that they’re using him – not horror but I think of Stifler in the American Pie movies as a good example), so it’s a bit refreshing when they turn it into a plot point.
But it’s just so weightless, with barely enough plot to cover a Tales From The Crypt episode, let alone a feature film. I will try hard not to get into spoiler territory, but the basic plot is figuring out who the “Tree Surgeon” (a serial killer who has been working in the area) is, and there’s really only two options. So when one of them is canceled out around the halfway mark, it leaves little surprise to the movie. And it's not like Crawl, which also had a fairly thin story but made up for it with some terrific suspense set-pieces and top notch directorial work (plus a kick-ass score). Only the number of deaths gives it any sort of suspense, but it’s not exciting or creative enough to set it apart from other movies that have more fleshed out ideas, or at least some personality.
Some of those other movies might look better too. I was kind of shocked to discover that this was shot on 35mm, at least until I watched the bonus features. There are a number of “hidden” CGI effects in the movie (adding things like blood on someone’s knuckles or removing an ugly door frame), and the director keeps talking about the color timing and such, so it seems by the time they finished running this thing through all the filters and compression for FX, it sucked all of the “film” look out of it, and instead just looks like a slightly above average digital movie. Kind of a shame, really – it’s a low budget production in a world where even the folks who can afford film are opting for digital instead – it would have been awesome to champion this production as why 35 or even 16mm could AND should be an option for low budget movies, but I doubt anyone would be won over by the results shown here.
Then again that might just be a DVD transfer. Director Kelly Smith (who also co-wrote and produced) is admirably honest about his (and his film’s) shortcomings on the bonus features (more on the “making of” than the commentary), but he has nothing but praise for the film’s look and for those who helped him achieve it. And the commentary is being recorded as the film is just finishing its post-production process, so maybe someone messed up at the DVD house?
Anyway, the extras are in some ways better than the movie. Smith’s 40 minute “making of” (which is just a long interview that he seemed to have conducted himself) goes through pretty much every facet of production – even post-production is broken down into color timing, sound mixing, etc. He admits that the script probably could have used another week’s worth of work, and is charmingly upfront about how naïve he was when he embarked on his first feature after feeling a bit limited in the short film world (he claims he didn’t even know what a gaffer was until he got on set and met one). Even if the movie itself isn’t particularly memorable, you gotta love his attitude – hell, I’ve seen far worse movies from guys who apparently knew what they were doing. There’s also a quick rundown of the various digital FX in the film, many of which escaped my eye (the blood splatter was obvious, but the blood on the knife was added too? Good work). On the commentary this is explained; the chosen makeup guy had to leave the production and his replacement wasn’t quite prepared (a running theme on the movie, it seems), so things were rushed or skipped. The commentary is riddled with little explanations (excuses?), which again makes it a bit refreshing – at least they can admit that the movie’s not perfect. Smith is a bit too obsessed with name-dropping the other things the crew has worked on, but otherwise it’s a solid track, re-affirming that my insistence on listening to them is not a fool’s errand. Sure, most are pointless, but ones like this that benefit from honesty and a lack of pretense are worth slogging through the others to find.
So I apologize for keeping things vague, but as the minor surprises in the paper thin plot are pretty much the only thing the movie has going for it, I’d feel sort of guilty spoiling them even with a warning (especially since it’s new – if this was an actual 1970s movie (Smith was influenced by a few) I’d be OK with it, but it just hit DVD today). It’s a decent time-killer and, again, I admire how it came to exist, but it lacks that je ne sais quoi that would elevate it to something I’d champion.
What say you?