‘Let Me In’ director on living up to undead original: ‘It was terrifying’

Sept. 30, 2010 | 8:11 a.m.

Steven Zeitchik, the lead writer of our sister blog 24 Frames digs into “Let Me in” and its undead heritage…

Kodi Smit-McPhee, left, and Chloe Grace Moretz in "Let Me In." (Saeed Adyani/Overture Films)

In remaking the Swedish vampire cult hit ” Let the Right One In,” Matt Reeves put himself in a position as fraught as Dracula at high noon.

Most people had never heard of the source material. And some of those who had — and could help him spread positive word — just wished the project would go away. Why attempt an English-language do-over, they asked, of a recent movie that was pretty much perfect in the first place?

Mat Reeves. Credit: Ken Hively / Los Angeles Times

“I started writing the script for ‘Let Me In,’ and then ‘Let the Right One In’ got big in the U.S. I thought, ‘Oh no, there’s going to be a lot more focus on this now,’ ” said Reeves, the “Cloverfield” director and J.J. Abrams protégé who scripted and directed the new movie, starring Chloe Grace Moretz, Kodi Smit-McPhee and Richard Jenkins. “It was terrifying.”

When “Let Me In” opens Friday, fans will have a chance to judge whether Reeves and his cast have paid proper homage to the original while recontextualizing it in a way that’s uniquely American. Tomas Alfredson’s “Let the Right One In,” based on a script and novel from John Ajvide Lindqvist, was a relatively minor commercial release in the U.S. in the fall of 2008, taking in just $2 million at the box office. But it won an outsized fan base among critics and horror-genre bloggers.

The Swedish-language picture told the story of Eli and Oskar, a young vampire girl and a lonely boy who strike up a friendship in a snowbound, lower-middle-class Stockholm suburb in the early 1980s. Bullied by his classmates and neglected by his parents, Oskar finds in Eli a sympathetic ear, and the two engage in a series of tender meetings in the courtyard of their apartment complex. But the young vampire’s life is hardly simple — the blood-craving creature is entangled in an ambiguous relationship with a worn-down, middle-aged man who may be protecting her or exploiting her.

With its exquisite subtlety, metaphoric overtones about preadolescent sexuality and clever inversion of a traditional power relationship, “Let the Right One In” both reinvented a subgenre and transcended it, a vampire movie for non-vampire fans. Reeves retained Alfredson’s structure, relationships, snowy atmospherics and 1980s setting …

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– Steven Zeitchik

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