An ostracized 12-year-old boy befriends his strange 12-year-old girl neighbor who never goes out during the day and can’t come into his house unless he invites her in Let Me In, the remake of a much lauded Swedish movie from a few years ago called Let the Right One In.
Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is bullied at school and uncomfortable at home — his mother (Cara Buono) and father are in the middle of an acrimonious divorce. So when he’s not running from a quartet of boys led by a little sadist (Dylan Minnette) seemingly bent on causing actual harm, Owen appears to be turning into a sadist himself, repeating the menacing lines — “are you a little girl” and “are you crying, little girl”— that the bully says to him — while stabbing at a tree in the courtyard of his mother’s apartment building. When he’s not doing that, he’s spying on the neighbors, creepy-kid-style, with a telescope that catches one couple having sex and, late one night, a man (Richard Jenkins) moving into one of the apartments with a little girl. One evening while playing in the courtyard, Owen meets the girl, Abby (Chloe Grace Moretz), who almost immediately tells him they can’t be friends. But they do become friends, of course, hanging out together night after night. Only at night.
But it’s the 1980s, so perhaps he doesn’t pick up on that. And though he sees the man he assumes is Abby’s dad come and go, carrying strange-sized bags of stuff, at suspiciously late hours, and though he hears them fighting through the wall that separates his bedroom from Abby’s, Owen assumes that the girl he is slowly getting to know is, like him, some kind of troubled 12-year-old.
What he doesn’t know is what we see, that “Abby’s dad” is out searching for people to drain of blood to feed Abby. And he doesn’t, at least at first, see what happens to Abby when she gets close to that blood.
Let Me In has all the generic ingredients of, say, the Twilight series: young people in the confusion of love, social outcasts, mysterious killings and, of course, a vampire. But this is like the anti-Twilight. Everything in that series that was gushy and giggly is, here, creepy and disturbing. Everything sparkly there is dark and blood-soaked here. Before vampires were metaphors for repressed sexual longings, they were metaphors for repressed sexual longings that tore out people’s throats and exsanguinated them. Let Me In gets to that side of the vampire mythology. Sure, Owen has a goofy tween’s crush on Abby, but he is also scared to the core of his being by what she turns into when he cuts his finger. Yes, the glitter-covered relatives of Edward lunged at Bella when she got a paper cut in New Moon, but here Abby morphs into something feral and demonic and sucks his blood off the floor. You won’t see Robert Pattinson doing that in a Tiger Beat photo spread.
Stripped of the Twilight/True Blood sexiness that has accompanied vampire stories recently, Let Me In returns the creature to the monster category. The age of the kids makes the horror all the more horrible (but, thankfully, without being so creepy as to be unwatchable). The gloom of the snowy town in New Mexico and the modern-but-off period dressings of the 1980s help amp up the constant feeling of wrongness. Let Me In is that rare horror movie that is genuinely chilling.
Rated R for strong bloody horror violence, language and brief sexual situation. Written and directed by Matt Reeves (from the novel and movie by John Ajvide Lindqvist), Let Me In is an hour and 55 minutes long and opens in wide release on Friday, Oct. 1. It is distributed by Overture Films.