With readers turning to their home viewing options more than ever, this daily feature provides one new movie each day worth checking out on a major streaming platform.
Most English-language remakes of acclaimed recent films tend to register as pointless at best, insulting at worst. (Thank god that Jack Nicholson version of “Toni Erdmann” never went anywhere, and the less said about recent “Force Majeure” rip-off “Downhill,” the better.) Ten years ago, Matt Reeves’ “Let Me In” proved a notable exception to the rule. Three years after director Tomas Alfredson’s elegant Swedish vampire drama became a festival hit, Reeves treated the gig as an opportunity to engage with the aesthetic of the original that made it so chilling and distinct. “Let Me In” plays less like a remake than a remix, with alluring flourishes overlaid across the same magnetic beat.
That achievement is worth revisiting a decade later, as Reeves continues to work on the latest iteration of “The Batman,” with Robert Pattinson donning the cape and cowl. (Originally set for next summer, it was recently pushed to fall 2021.) Reeves has several other credits that prove he can handle a giant blockbuster — he launched the “Cloverfield” franchise with dizzying found-footage action, and found exciting new genre foundations for the last two “Planet of the Apes” entries — but Batman benefits most from a delicate, moody approach, the kind of romantic darkness that permeates every scene of “Let Me In.”
As it turned out, Reeves’ movie faced a less flattering comparison than its inspiration. Alfredson’s Cannes-acclaimed entry stood on its own, opening one year before “Twilight” turned teen vampire lovers into a cultural phenomenon. But by the time “Let Me In” came out, the franchise was three movies deep, and the story of the romantic bond between young bloodsucker and a wayward human suddenly looked like part of a trend. However one feels about “Twilight,” the comparison doesn’t stick: That monstrous series dealt to a large degree with teen angst and young adulthood, while “Let Me In” explored what it means to be forever young and damned.
That’s the conundrum facing Abby (Chloe Grace Moretz), the immortal child who shows up in the same small-town New Mexico community where 12-year-old Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee) endures an alienated life filled with bullies and the travails of a single-parent household. Abby’s longtime familiar (a clumsy Richard Jenkins) has lost his touch across the decades, fails at bringing his master her necessary blood, and winds up in a devastating car accident that ends with his suicide out of a hospital window. That leaves her tasked with finding her own food, just in time for Owen to discover her in a playground and forge an unusual bond, which continues to deepen as he gradually uncovers her secret.
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So far, so familiar: From a plot standpoint, “Let Me In” treats the original material as a sacred template, building on its design with the same degree of caution one might expect for Shakespeare. And while “Let the Right One In” wasn’t that momentous, its appeal came from tone as much as character; Reeves demonstrated an intuitive understanding that the best cinematic experiences often have less to do with what happens than how they’re expressed, and it’s here that “Let Me In” find a compelling reason to exist.
By the time “Let Me In” came around, Moretz had already found some measure of acclaim for her starring role in Martin Scorsese’s “Hugo,” but nothing in that cheerful film history homage suggested the subdued, eerie performance she delivers here. Smit-McPhee was a different story: one year earlier, he held his own opposite Viggo Mortensen in “The Road,” conveying the same degree of quiet remove from a disinterested world that he pulls off here. Together, they develop a remarkable onscreen chemistry that defies the boundaries of language, and holds its own against comparisons to Kare Hedebrant and Lina Leandersson in the original. The performances play off the idea that one person immune to the world and another rejected by it were bound to be together.
It’s a poetic, almost vulgar idea carried through in an atmosphere that oscillates from melancholic fragility to visceral, unsettling bursts of violence and back again. That balance is epitomized by the movie’s most celebrated sequence, a harrowing long-take of a car crash from the back seat of the vehicle. As it somersaults across the road, the vehicle becomes a metaphor for the topsy-turvy nature of the unpredictable world where it takes place.
And what a world. Set in an icy rendition of the early 1980s — Morning in America, Reagan-style — the movie carries over the distinctive feel of the original while giving it a unique new sociopolitical context. Owen and Abby hail from very different generations, but have been rendered equals by forces beyond their control, with striking allegorical implications to that dynamic. “Let Me In” suggests that a society in transition, one that abandons its lower classes, will in the process also lose its soul. Reeves injects this dead world with a pronounced dread, only allowing for some measure of escape through the bond that blossoms between Owen and Abby.
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That’s what sets up the subversive kick of the finale, when the pair finally realize they’re meant to be together. When lost souls wander the scorched landscape, only the prospects of companionship can help them chart a path forward. “Let the Right One In” made that point just as well, but with “Let Me In,” Reeves made it his own. Here’s hoping he does that with “The Batman,” too.
“Let Me In” is available to stream on Hulu.