Friday, October 08, 2010

Let Me In (2010)

As the title suggests, Let Me In accepts the legend that a vampire can't enter a house unless she's first invited. It's one of my least-favorite vampire traditions (tied with Can't Cross Running Water), but Let Me In makes it work by - if not explaining it - at least showing what happens when a vampire breaks the rule.

That's not the only thing to like about the movie. Even though I'm very poorly read in Hammer's horror output from the late '50s through early '70s, it was a thrill to see their name in front of a horror film again. More than that though, it's the story about loneliness that makes the film so interesting.

Kodi Smit-McPhee (The Road) plays a twelve-year-old boy named Owen who doesn't have any friends. He's a really cute kid, but his parents' divorce is screwing him up and his mom dresses him weird and he doesn't have a lot in the way of social skills. He's being picked on by a bully at school named Kenny (Dylan Minnette, who played Jack's son in the last season of Lost) and as the movie begins, Owen's trying to build up courage to use a knife to make Kenny stop. Enter Abby (Chloë Grace Moretz from Kick Ass), a girl Owen's age who moves into Owen's apartment complex with her dad.

I won't tease out what you already know. Abby's a vampire. And in her way, she's just as lonely as Owen. The two strike up a friendship, then a romance.

It's no coincidence that Owen's studying Romeo and Juliet in school. Owen and Abby are star-crossed lovers. What's nice is that the movie doesn't carry the analogy too far. It could have made Owen part of a family of vampire hunters or something, but there's no need for that. Vampires and humans are enemies and we all know it without having to be told. Owen and Abby should not be together. And yet they are.

The consequences are disturbing. My brother-in-law and I spent a lot of time talking about the movie afterward. Let Me In doesn't pull any punches or make it easy for the audience to root for the couple. Abby isn't some "good" vampire who only steals from blood banks or drinks from animals. She and her father kill people. Innocent people. She's so sweet and lovable when she's with Owen, but the movie never lets you forget who and what she really is. There's no justifying it.

I wanted Owen to connect to someone. He's got his mother, but she's going through her own crap with Owen's absent dad and has chosen to do it mostly alone.  She's loving to a point and superficially supportive, but she never once has a real, meaningful conversation with her son and ends every night on the couch by herself with a big glass of wine. Owen's not a perfect kid either, but he doesn't deserve what he's getting. His loneliness is heartbreaking.

So is Abby's, though she could very well deserve it. The movie doesn't tell us whether or not she has other options than killing innocent people in horribly violent ways. She seems to lose control when she's hungry, but there's at least one occasion when she's vamped out that she's able to keep herself from attacking Owen. Still, she has to run away to do it and it's not a tactic she can employ indefinitely in every occasion. But see, that's me trying to let myself off the hook for liking her. The film makes a point not to justify her actions. It wants you on that hook. She's cute and sweet, but she's a serial killer. It's impossible not to want her to find comfort in her loneliness, but you're sort of a bad person if you sympathize with her too much.

You cannot want her and Owen to be together. That they are is - like Romeo and Juliet again - a tragedy. But the movie does an excellent job - better than any production of Shakespeare's play I've ever seen - of putting you right there in the relationship and making you understand why they both need it so badly.
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