Friday, October 1, 2010

Knock Knock: On Letting the Right “Me” In

People who know me already know that I really, really like Matt Reeves’s Let Me In, his somewhat Americanized remake of Tomas Alfredson’s Let the Right One In, the Swedish adolescent vampire phenomenon from a couple of years ago. And I think a lot of other people will like it, too. There’s been a bit of an uproar over the past year or so, courtesy of fans of the original who dread the thought of Hollywood getting its grubby paws on such a distinctive and daring film. I think that once people see Let Me In, they’ll realize that their fears were misplaced. Reeves remains remarkably faithful to the original’s tone and style – indeed, some scenes seem to be almost identical.

That, of course, brings up a different concern: At what point does a remake become unnecessary? If Let Me In is going to be that faithful to the original, does it not undermine the case for its own existence to some extent? The answer to that is, for me, “No,” but more because Let Me In is actually quite different from the original in a couple of interesting ways, which I’ll get into below.

But first: The question of the too-faithful-remake is an interesting one, and I’ve struggled with it for different films: Like many people, I wasn’t a fan of Gus Van Sant’s remake (or maybe I should call it his "de-imagining") of Psycho, but I also didn’t care for Michael Haneke’s Funny Games USA, which was basically a shot-for-shot reconstruction of his original Funny Games, which I love. But I dislike these remakes for different reasons: Psycho sucks because Vince Vaughn is no Anthony Perkins, the garish color cinematography is totally wrong for the story, and the pacing and style of four decades ago doesn’t quite work with today’s acting styles. (Deep thought: There’s nothing wrong with a film being of its time. That doesn’t automatically translate to its being “dated.”) I can theoretically imagine a shot-for-shot remake of Psycho that I'd be fine with, though I doubt I could love it as much as the original.

Funny Games USA, on the other hand, drove me nuts because I’ve already seen Funny Games, and a film that gets part of its charge from daring you to watch it, and on some level from implicitly criticizing you for watching it, doesn’t really work the second time around in an ostensibly "new" version. That is to say: I can watch the original Funny Games multiple times, and have done so, but I had trouble sitting through even one screening of Funny Games USA, even though it's basically the same thing, and may even be a bit better acted. Fool me once and all that. (BTW, here’s a link to my Nerve review at the time, which mysteriously ends mid-way through a sentence – an in-joke from my editors?)

Here's one example that might be the most appropriate one for this discussion: I was never a fan of the John Badham-Bridget Fonda La Femme Nikita remake Point of No Return – because that genuinely seemed unnecessary at the time, and also because I idolized Luc Besson back then. But maybe it's time to revisit this opinion. La Femme Nikita was an international phenomenon, sure, but it wasn't (and is not) an acknowledged, canonical masterpiece like Psycho. Nor are there issues of conflicting cinematic epochs to deal with; both are movies from the same period, basically. So, I’ve been meaning to see Point again. Besides, there have been enough damned La Femme Nikita remakes and homages now that Badham's film may well have aged nicely. And I've gotten over Luc Besson. Plus, I miss Bridget Fonda.

Okay, back to Let Me In. Like I said, I think Reeves does in fact bring something new to the table with his film – namely, a willingness to bring us closer into the world of these young kids. Their interactions are often shot in close-up, something Let the Right One In studiously avoided in favor of master shots. The original in that sense had a built-in stylistic distance from these characters; it was alienating, but in a good way. (These were pretty alienated characters, let’s face it.) Reeves’s performers keep the cool, tense acting style, but his camera is at times almost uncomfortably close – though the film is stylistically miles away from Cloverfield (to say nothing of, um, The Pallbearer, which I haven’t seen but maybe should), it seems clear to me that this director is already a master of perspective and offscreen space, whether he’s shooting an entire film from the POV of a Handicam or filming a car accident from the inside of the car getting totaled. (As I typed that last sentence, it occurred to me that my boy Gaspar Noe and this fellow Reeves have a few things in common.) When I interviewed him for Vulture, Reeves noted that he “wanted to bring the camera closer, because I saw an opportunity to do a Rear Window-esque thing. I wanted to see things through [Owen’s] point of view as much as possible, and to use that to support the suspense of the movie.”

More linkage: I discuss the stylistic differences between the two Let Me Ins a bit further in my review of the film from this week’s Nashville Scene.

Also, here’s a short profile I did of its young star, the supernaturally talented Chloe Moretz, for New York Magazine last month.

Aand finally, here’s a slideshow I did for Vulture, in which I got Matt Reeves to discuss ten of his favorite kills from movie history. Some of his choices are predictable, but there are a couple of surprises in there. It’s actually pretty good, if I do say so myself.

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