Setting aside the fact that it exists only because American moviegoers prefer not to read subtitles, Let Me In more or less faithfully duplicates 2009’s Swedish vampire drama Let the Right One In, the changes made to its predecessor roughly split between the inspired and misbegotten. Cloverfield director Matt Reeves doesn’t take many chances in adapting Thomas Alfredson’s film (itself based on Jon Alvide Lindqvist’s novel), dutifully recounting the budding friendship between oft-bullied loner Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee) and new-girl-in-town Abby (Kick-Ass’ Chloe Grace Moretz), the latter a blood-sucker accompanied by an adult (Richard Jenkins) whose responsibility it is to procure fresh plasma for his blonde-haired charge. A few plot particulars are altered along the way, so that Owen’s mom is now a religious nut and the film begins with a flash-forward. Yet the gist remains the same, and in some cases improved upon: specifically, the inclusion of a recurring Now & Later candies motif (their name speaking to Owen and Abby’s present and future together), the replacement of a drunken character with a police officer (Elias Koteas) for a climactic bathroom scene, a canny blurring of Owen’s gender identity (he’s taunted as “little girl”) to match Abby’s uncertain sexuality, and a stunningly visceral sequence in which the camera maintains a backseat POV throughout an automotive escape gone horribly awry.
Alas, for those positive changes, there are equally objectionable ones, most of which involve tone. Ronald Reagan TV speeches supply scant political undertones, Reeves’ CG proves cartoony, and his serviceable cinematography lacks the unsettling grace of Alfredson’s, even if it often does little more than outright copy (or provide harmonizing mirror images of) its antecedent. Less welcome still, Reeves softens edges, making Abby cuter and more romantically desirable – suffice to say, the original’s infamous crotch shot is MIA – as well as somewhat moderates Owen’s anger, fury and confusion, epitomized by a third-act incident notable for its absence of a knife and, thus, the impulses that lurked behind its potential use. By rooting Abby and Owen’s, as well as Abby and her guardian’s, relationships more specifically in semi-sexual attraction and, furthermore, in sympathizing human emotion – typified by Abby’s sad gaze at Jenkins’ adult when she forces him to kill for her – Reeves’ version simplifies its central interpersonal bonds and, consequently, the deranged, unnerving atmosphere that made Alfredson’s film so haunting. All in all, it feels safer and tidier, especially since it slightly mutes the lingering suggestion that Abby’s motivations are less genuine than devious. Which, in the end, leaves Let Me In as merely an uneven trace-job of superior source material, one that gets the moves right but only sporadically the spirit as well.