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.


John Rozum said...

Did you see the original, "Let the Right One In"? I was wondering how they compared. I absolutely love the original, and am hesitant to see the Americanized version.

Remember Abby's not really a serial murderer. She'd have to be human to do that. It would be like hating your pet cat because it kills birds and mice when it goes outside, no matter how it treats you.

Michael May said...

I haven't, but it's on the list. I've heard from other folks too that it's excellent.

Good analogy about the cat. My calling Abby a serial killer focuses on the result of her actions without taking into account her motivations. Your comparison's more accurate.

I still wouldn't condone the actions of a man-eating cat (and would do everything in my power to prevent deaths), but I'd have a lot more sympathy for it than I would for a human serial killer. That pretty closely describes my conflict around Abby.

John Rozum said...

That's the sort of conflict I've been trying to infuse into much of my work aimed at adults, particularly in "Midnight, Mass." with Arturo probably being the best example. I've never really believed in evil. I don't think that simply being bad has ever motivated anyone to act a certain way. Even the most horrendous acts can probably be seen as justifiable (whether they are , or not) in the mind of the person committing them, and often, from their perspective for good intent.

Would I destroy Abby if she intruded into my life? Yes. Would I despise her for what she does? Not necessarily. I'd kill her for the very same reasons she'd kill me: Survival.

There was an issue of Xombi that was going to deal with very similar issues in a pretty shocking manner. I haven't forgotten this story and hopefully I'll figure out a way to reconfigure it for the future.

Michael May said...

See, this kind of complexity is exactly why I love your stuff so much and miss Midnight, Mass and Xombi. My fingers are perpetually crossed that those - or something like them - will be back some day.

John Rozum said...

You know, I DO have a project going at DC that I still can't talk about. I have a feeling it will fit your needs.

Michael May said...

That's what I've been hoping. :)

Kal said...

I really want to see this one. I have the original foreign version that is thought of highly by most and I want to see it before I see this version.

Of course a child vampire would not be able to fight the hunger though I have no idea how long she has been a vampire. But I think that since she is having a relationship with another child then she is still in the pre-teen age.

ennui with vampires? sign me up

Michael May said...

The age thing is a little weird. Though it's clear she's been a vampire for a very long time, she makes a point of saying that she's been stuck at twelve in every way, mentally and emotionally as well as physically. That's different from how it's usually done and a really cool take on it.


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