Review by C.J. Bunce
If you have been watching closely, you may notice that streaming platforms, pay channels, and cable networks rely on hit movies for the bulk of their replays. Try to find some of your favorites outside the mainstream on Netflix, for example, and you’re likely to find mostly films made since streaming itself started to be a thing. Starz has been one monthly pay channel option that is slowly bringing back more obscure films from the past 50 years, films like Outland and Wolfen. Another you may have missed is Let Me In from a decade ago, another of those rare genre-bending films that–if you’re lucky enough to just stumble across it–is the kind of film to remind you why you love genre films. It stars twelve-year-old actors Chloe Grace Moretz and Kodi Smit-McPhee in powerful breakout performances, the same year Moretz would deliver one of the big screen’s best superheroine performances as the cute but foul-mouthed Hit Girl in the movie Kick-Ass with Nicolas Cage, and just after Smit-McPhee would co-star in the dystopian film The Road with Viggo Mortenson.
Is it horror, an early 1980s coming-of-age tale, a love story, crime-suspense, a story of an abusive father, or something more (as Starlord might say, “a bit of both”?). If you enjoy not knowing what genre of film you’re jumping into, this is for you. Like Midnight Special, Skeleton Key, 12 Monkeys, and The Others, much of the film will creep by before you even have any certainty as to what is “really” going on. Writer-director Matt Reeves, who brought audiences the Cloverfield series and the latest Planet of the Apes movies and is working on The Batman for 2021, mixes some truly dramatic moments into Let Me In, while also adding the next must-watch for coming of age movies, suspense-thrillers, horror, and romance. Just as James Mangold delivered a father-daughter love story in Logan, Reeves puts his own stamp on a compelling tale of a boy and the girl next door.
The clues Reeves delivers along the way will be more obvious to some than others. Donnie Darko, Fargo, Logan, The Outsiders–Don’t be surprised if Reeves’ deftly drawn scenes evoke feelings from all sorts of big films. Disturbing, poignant, triumphant, chilling. You might even get twisted into feeling a certain sympathy for one of the film’s creepier characters. A police detective played by Elias Koteas (Shooter, Zodiac, Gattaca) will have you think you’re following Mark Ruffalo’s character in another Zodiac movie.
If you can think of no other reason to watch this one, watch it for those two promising young actors: Kodi Smit-McPhee, who would go on to voice Norman in ParaNorman, then be the face of Nightcrawler for the second generation of X-Men films, and appear in last year’s Dolemite is My Name, and Chloe Grace Moretz, who is probably the best actor of her generation, already turning in stellar performances in The Equalizer and Hugo that were Oscar-worthy, and a host of nuanced performances in horror movies. Plus there’s Richard Jenkins (who has been nominated for two Oscars) like you’ve never seen him before, and a blink or you’ll miss her Cara Buono (most recently best known as Mike and Nancy’s mom in Stranger Things) playing Owen’s mom. And the young antagonist played by Dylan Minnette (Awake, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) is a ringer for both John Travolta’s bad guy in Carrie and Matt Dillon’s cocky kid in The Outsiders.
The closest watch-alike you’ll probably find to Let Me In is Donnie Darko. In many ways Let Me In is Donnie Darko if it were made in 2010 instead of a decade earlier. You have the smart integration of era pop music, the realistic scenes of a “different” kid trying to survive a school full of bullies, kid angst, awkward conversations between a boy and girl, and a fantastical, intervening force that tries to get in the way of the few things that are going right.
As with several other good remakes of the horror realm like The Ring and 12 Monkeys, Let Me In is a remake of the 2008 Swedish Tomas Alfredson film, Let the Right One In.
Call it a genre-bender, a genre-switcher, or a multi-genre movie, it’s a great piece of filmmaking, the reason why we love genre movies that refuse to follow the stale drama formula that inevitably fills out the new annual list of Oscar nominees. Let Me In won several genre awards, just none of the mainstream awards, which is also telling. Don’t miss it now that it’s streaming on Starz, Vudu, and Amazon Prime, or just pick it up here on Blu-ray at Amazon.