By Armond White
Let Me In ought to be rated NC-17 due to the problematic nature of its vague concept: Spooky Abby (Chloe Grace Moretz), a child vampire, encourages her wimpy neighbor Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee) to emulate some of her bloodthirsty rage in response to his school bullies. It’s a morbidly grim Afterschool Special. Yet some movies are not suitable viewing for those who cannot formulate the expediency of right and wrong—which usually means children. Let Me In proves there are unprincipled adult filmmakers who can’t tell right from wrong either.
Bluenoses who complain about the ratings system don’t understand that ratings are not censorship nor a quality judgment but a guide to an out-of-control industry that will do anything for a cheap thrill. This perverted fairy tale about Owen’s guardian vampire degrades the vampire genre simply to exploit adolescent sappiness. Let Me In draws an unclear conclusion about social behavior, exploiting Owen’s suffering and Abby’s treachery just for lurid kicks. Less than ambiguous, its portrayal of teenage loneliness is dubious—replacing nerdiness (Owen endures an excruciating wedgie) with the delight of murder and revenge, disregarding social and psychological stability. It warps the instructive purpose of fairytales and settles for horror movie sensationalism.
Matt Reeves, who last perpetrated the ludicrous neo-Godzilla movie Cloverfield under the aegis of TV schlockmeister J.J. Abrams, directs in the same style of visual mumbo-jumbo: When Reeves’ camera can’t swish-pan, it blurs. Either way you still can’t see the action clearly. (Expect unsophisticated viewers to praise the “indirect” method of his submerged swimming pool massacre climax.) The opening ambulance trauma scene recalls the inanity of The Blair Witch Project, where degraded technique (fuzzy obfuscation) is meant to create suspense. The same dumb logic governs Reeves’ attitude toward Owen’s dilemma and Abby’s malevolence; he confuses one’s pathos with the other’s immorality (she’s always looking for the next meal anyway).
The 2009 Swedish film Let the Right One In originated this confusion. Its title—borrowed from a 1993 Morrissey song that expressed adolescent longing—sentimentalized moral ambiguity. Abby cannot enter her friend’s home without being invited, requiring his acceptance of evil. Bringing teen anguish to vampire lore (M. Night Shyamalan-style rather than Buffy-style) was lamely nihilistic—and inferior to the vampire romance Twilight that opened the same season. But critics preferred Let the Right One In for its self-pitying view of adolescence. That’s also the sell point of this American remake—add on trite political commentary by setting the story in the nuclear test site Los Alamos, N.M., during the 1980s and frequently cutting to TV broadcasts of President Reagan as a right-wing ghoul warning: “America is good, and if America ever ceases to be good…”
So teen anguish gets smashed-up with facile politics, America-hatred and routine Christianity bashing. (Owen’s mother is a grace-saying, Bible-reading drunk whose estranged husband complains about “more of your mother’s religious crap.”) Meanwhile, vampirism—though freaky—gets idealized. But when Abby’s father (Richard Jenkins) mutilates himself after fouling-up a blood-raid/murder-spree and she goes on her own feeding frenzies—including neighborhood lovers and the only cop in town—the gruesome bloodletting lacks the beautiful moral symmetry of the all-time great adolescent horror movie, Brian De Palma’s 1976 teen classic Carrie. Apparently, neither Reeves nor critics remember De Palma’s part-satiric, part-melodramatic demarcation between Carrie’s pathetic need to belong and her tragic acts of revenge.
True to millennial faithlessness, Let Me In rejects Carrie’s complexity, emphasizing both Abby and Owen’s misery. Young scholar Jesse Tucker wrote a brilliant essay describing De Palma’s final twist (where Carrie’s hand grasps her schoolmate’s) as a forgiving gesture toward commiseration. Reeves flips that beautiful motivation in the scene where Owen ignores a reach for help from one of Abby’s victims. It’s an obscene devolution of the genre. Children should not be exposed to this lurid display of helplessness and pessimism—and adult viewers should be wary of the nihilistic indulgence.
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