Let Me In is a great cover of Let the Right One In, though it raises the question: Does Matt Reeves have a style of his own? After Cloverfield (something borrowed—namely, from The Blair Witch Project) and Let Me In (not unlike Tomas Alfredson’s predecessor, it is—in color and emotion—something almost unbearably blue), maybe next time we may expect something legitimately new from the man who cut his teeth as a writer for the teen drama Felicity. For now, though, do not doubt Reeves’s shrewd, unmistakably humane understanding of the hurt and alienation felt by the young, because what makes Let Me In so remarkable, beyond its unexpected political perspective, is how that emotion is reflected in its self-consciously lush artistry.
In color, composition, and tone, both Let Me In and Let the Right One In are strikingly alike, but their differences are almost as remarkable. Except for a gorgeously shot car accident that, in being filmed from the point of view of an invisible someone seated in the backseat has a creepily implicating effect on the audience, the set pieces are the same, though Reeves’s instinct isn’t to shoot tragedy from afar; if Alfredson’s use of the long shot emphasizes the titanic sense of loneliness felt by the story’s characters, Reeves moves a little closer on the human face, emphasizing body language—sentimentalizing it, even—in order to stress what a character wants as opposed to what they don’t. Through its slight alterations in style, Let Me In becomes a study in emotional contrast.
For proof, take the film’s greatest scene (spoilers herein), in which Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee) watches Abby (Chloë Grace Moretz) kill for the first time. In the way the nameless police officer played by Elias Koteas reaches out for Owen and Owen reaches back, you get a profound sense of their individual helplessness, and when Owen chooses, instead of saving him, to close the door on the hunter and his prey, the significance of the title comes into startling focus. The idea of humans needing to invite vampires into their homes is treated as a matter of civility on True Blood, but here it isn’t about manners, or even seduction, but a crisis of faith—a struggle with morality and inheritance (one’s submission to it). When Owen closes the door, he agrees to a life not unlike the one Abby’s “father” (Richard Jenkins) once chose for himself, and what makes the moment so deeply unsettling is how Owen’s choice becomes an imperative once he decides, sadly and horrifyingly, that his emotional troubles far outweigh another innocent’s brutal slaughter.
But Reeve’s amplification of Let the Right One In’s study of human loneliness and the prickly crawlspace between adolescence and adulthood isn’t even the filmmaker’s greatest coup—it’s his rooting of the story in March 1983, in a bleak region of New Mexico where no one moves to, only runs away from. Reeves, who wasn’t too much older than Owen in that year, prominently foregrounds a televised speech Reagan gave around that time (his budgetary-obsessed Star Wars one, no doubt), so that Let Me In becomes impossible to read just as story of a boy who feels awfully lonely. By setting the story in this time of brutal economic discontent, of rampant divorce among baby boomers, Reeves gives Let Me In great gravitas, conflating the political with human feeling so that Owen’s struggle becomes that of an entire nation of suffering, desperate, naïve people looking for a savior.