‘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…

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

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?

matt reeves Let Me In director on living up to undead original: It was terrifying

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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