Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Let Me Out

Let Me In 2010 UK/USA
Directed by Matt Reeves
Playing at cinemas now!

Warning: Ok... this one doesn’t just have spoilers for the movie, it also has spoilers for the source novel which is a very different beast to this... if you’re thinking of reading the novel anytime soon you may want to give this a miss.

I don’t dislike remakes as a rule... although I do tend to steer clear from quite a lot of them, usually out of both a respect for the original material being made and also because I deem the remake unnecessary. That being said however, I quite like films that are well and truly reimagined and do something different with the source material... if there’s an element of “play” displayed in the intent of the film-makers involved.

But there’s even some straight(ish) remakes that I really like, especially when they’re not remakes as such but second or third cracks at the source material.I love the Bogart version of The Maltese Falcon, for example but that was like the third time within a very few years that it was put on the screen and, to be fair, I do have a certain amount of affection for its predecessors too (technical considerations aside). As much as I love Elisha Cook Jr... I’ll always have time to watch Dwight Frye playing the same role in an earlier version... frankly I could probably watch Frye in anything.

I think the worst kinds of remakes inflicted upon us these days by an uncaring Hollywood is the spate of remakes of foreign movies (Ring, Dark Water, Nikita etc) which seem to be getting remade purely so the box office can benefit from running these movies in an English language rather than let xenophobic young audiences appreciate the beauty and vigor of the original works. I will usually, more often than not, try to avoid seeing these kinds of remakes at all costs.

Sometimes though I get conflicted. I loved the original movie adaptation of the novel which Let Me In takes as it’s source, Let The Right One In (I reviewed it here some months ago) which had a screenplay written by the writer of the original novel... even preferred it to the novel because, although it leaves a lot of the novel out (possibly for the wrong reasons) it was one of those cinematically beautiful movies that pulls you deep inside and doesn’t let you go until the last visually enticing image has flickered past your retina in a 24th of a second.

There was always the chance, in the back of my mind, that the newly owned Hammer Films may actually have a more authentic crack at the novel than the Swedish version... but after reading the credit “based on the screenplay and novel by” my heart fell a little.

Okay... lets get to it then. I don’t know if I’ve ever explained the difference between the 60s and 70s editions of Marvel and DC comics I used to read as a kid but, if I have outlined that on a previous review that I’ve forgotten about, please indulge me because I think the way this film has been handled in both versions is very reminiscent of the basic narrative differences between those two comics companies in that particular time period...

When I was a child I had a much more linear brain than I do now. I could read DC comics really easily (indeed, I learnt to read and got way ahead of all the other kids at school very quickly because my dad was smart enough to give me Superman and Batman comics to read and get interested in) but I had a bit of difficulty reading the Marvel ones at the time... the Marvel ones always seemed to start in the middle of the story and I’d always assume that I’d missed a load of stuff from the issue before and so I’d give up on it more often than not and go back to reading about Superman VS The Electric Monster. What I didn’t realise at the time was that this was because the Marvel comics were, more often than not, written to start off in the middle of an action sequence to give it a more dynamic hook for the reader and would then flash back to the backstory behind that action sequence to fill the reader in after that initial burst of excitement. Whereas the DC ones would usually present everything in a more linear fashion and let the story develop at its own pace.

Now I’m not saying either approach is better than the other, they’re both valid ways of looking at the material on offer, but I still think the reasons for telling your specific story in the Mighty Marvel Manner smacks of a kind of commercialism behind the artistry which doesn’t invalidate it but brings its motivation into question. Let Me In has a very clear approach to the way it tells the same story as Let The Right One, which, right from the outset, blatantly says Make Mine Marvel!

The movie opens approximately three quarters of the way through the novel and the first movie where an ambulance is noisily rushing Abby’s “guardian” to hospital after he has poured concentrated acid over his head. We then get a scene at the hospital from a policeman’s point of view (played by the normally wonderful Elias Koteas, who doesn’t have much to do here) as the nameless guardian plunges to his death. That’s the Marvelistic spark of excitement out of the way (for now) and the film then goes back to the start of the original and retells the story from there.

Now you have to understand here that I don’t by any means think that Let Me In is a terrible or badly made movie... it’s actually quite talentedly directed with some fairly nice shot set ups and some dynamic edits which give it a certain amount of edge. Unfortunately, because it is a remake of something else (despite allusions to being adapted from the novel) it does kind of invite comparison with its source material and, in the case of this particular movie, the source material does tend to walk all over the new version on all levels and considerations as far as I can see.

Like the first movie, it leaves out a load of characters which were in the original novel (although kudos to Reeves and co for at least referencing a couple of them - the father of the main protagonist Owen, for instance, at least exists in a phone call). However a lot of the other characters which were included in the original adaptation have been pruned too... the community of late middle-aged friends have all been taken out apart from the couple who get more involved after Abby bites the woman and leaves her as a vampire. These two are presumably only left in so we can have the scene when she bursts into fire in the hospital when the curtains are pulled. But even these two get a lot less screen time... and the tracking down of Abby to her apartment lair is not handled as a revenge investigation by the dead woman’s long term boyfriend... instead, Elias Koteas’ policeman becomes the spearhead of the investigation and it is he who goes to his death in his confrontation with Abby on his/her home turf.

And you see what I just did there right? His/her. In the original novel, not long before the end, Abby reveals him/herself to actually be a screwed up little boy who was castrated before being made into a vampire and who dresses up in girls clothing. This was a revelation that the original movie version shied away from, only referencing it obliquely for people who read the novel... the Hammer version does the same thing, choosing to leave this information unsaid but leaving in some references to Abby referring to “her”self as not being a girl... of course, if you’ve not read the book your thoughts instantly turn to the logical conclusion that, yeah she’s not a girl - she’s a vampire! Nope. Wrong! S/he’s actually a little boy... but that would not have been a commercially smart revelation, right?

The handling of Abby’s “guardian” however is quite different. In the original movie you just assume that they are lovers and as the years have gone by he has grown old and elderly while s/he has, of course, remained perpetually twelve years old... and that’s a nice theory and one that the first movie does nothing to confirm nor dispel. The actual character in the book, though, is a lot more troublesome. Abby and his/her guardian have not known each other for that long. Maybe a few years. The guy is basically a paedophile and Abby uses the insidious weakness of his attraction to him/her in order to get him to get the blood s/he needs to live. Horrible but that’s the way it is in the book. Completely uncommercial (not to mention pretty unpalatable in my opinion). Hammer draws a clear line here and deliberately re-enforces in the minds of the audience the “fact” that they’ve been together as lovers for decades by having Owen find some photographs of the two of them together when they were about the same age. Actually, since I’m assuming that vampires in a film which keeps in the ritual about not being able to enter where your not invited actually also do not get captured on film, this makes Abby only about 50 or 60 years old... whereas in the novel she’s centuries old!

There are lots of things in this movie, actually, which look like they’ve been done for purely commercial reasons... alas, the sad fact is that 99.9% of movies that get made are made for commercial reasons. Instead of having Abby’s guardian go out and walk around looking for “fresh meat” the Let Me In version of the character has him getting in the back of their cars and slicing them up in their transport. Not very practical but it does make for an exciting “car chase” kinda scene with a car crash and general mayhem which more than anything states the differences between the two versions loud and clear... the original movie is an artistic and beautiful movie which examines the relationship between a young boy and an ages old vampire... Let Me In is trying to be a high octane fright fest for teenagers who want to see action and horror (and succeeding quite skillfully as it happens). And it really does play up the horror element in this one. The swimming pool sequence had a certain amount of gore but was a lot more subtle and actually a lot more effective than the version of it as rendered in Let Me In. The original movie had Abby’s vampire state being treated almost as an afterthought to the poetic soul of the story... whereas the new version has some sequences where the scares are really being played up. Let Me In is definitely a “horror movie” as opposed to a “vampire movie”.

The music by Giachino is interesting too. The original movie had a beautiful and poignant score written for it but this one is definitely more in conventional, atonal horror movie mode... both the movies happen to have brilliant scores as it happens... just very different ones. How different? Well there’s a sequence near the end of the movie where Elias Koteas drives up to track down Abby (played by Chloe Moretz who achieved a certain high profile sense of notoriety playing Hit Girl in Kick Ass) and the whole, protracted sequence from when his car drives up to where he is “gored up” by Abby is scored in that Big-John-Barry-Bond-Sound! I kid you not... it’s like the countdown style of Bond-writing that you’ll recognise as being trademark Barry from movies like You Only Live Twice and Diamonds Are Forever. It’s like the brilliant Michael Giachinno (a composer I really like) has not forgotten the lessons of his temp-track troubled score to The Incredibles (I don’t care what anyone says, you listen to The Incredibles and you can not only work out what movies were used in the temp track, you can also easily identify the specific John Barry cues that were imitated to piece together the score, I’m amazed Barry never sued... good score though). Seriously good Bond-ridden music for this sequence which, quite surprizingly, works quite well in the context of the actual scene.

Right, this article has turned into a much longer haul than I thought it would so I’ll just leave you with this... if you’re a fan of the original movie, Let The Right One In, or are a fan of the original novel... don’t expect this movie to be able to live up to your expectations of it. If however, you are just looking for a fun night at the cinema with vampires, car crashes and lots o’ blood without worrying about the previous works of art that “inspired” it... then it’s worth giving Let Me In a little look. Do please though, at least, give the original movie a watch at some point... because that one was really good!


  1. Nice comparisons! I'm learning to pay more attention to the soundtrack as I watch, thanks to these reviews!

  2. Hey, thank you. That's a really nice compliment you just payed me.

    Mr. Bernard Hermann always had very strong views against the popular myth that a motion picture soundtrack is at its best when you don't notice it. But it's better when you can feel it working in harmony with the images.

    Check out Requiem For A Dream with Clint Mansell's score for a very harsh lesson in that!

    Oooh. We should have a talk about different types of cowboy music. Heard Herrmann's score for the western, Garden of Evil?

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  4. Haven't! Will check it out. I have a fondness for the cliched B western formulaic stuff, but usually prefer not to notice the score too too much. Have been intrigued by Stagecoach's score, which is a sort of mythic American-songbook type thing, very different, I've read, than the usual thing prior to 1939. Altho I better get more current, perhaps?

  5. Have only got the soundtrack to the Goldsmith scored remake of Stagecoach I'm afraid.

    Have you seen Garden of Evil? Right up your street I would have thought. Gary Cooper, Susan Hayward, Richard Widmark.

    But Herrmann's score is typical Herrmann. It's not the broad Americana-Coplandesque style of scoring the American Western became associated with and, of course, it's not anything like the style Morricone established for the Italian Westerns after they'd got done aping the US styles of scores. This is something quite different. Herrmann scored a few episodes of TV westerns too. Not his usual scene.