Monday, 31 January 2011

Re/Made in the USA: Let Me In

The Great Train Robbery 19031 is the first narrative driven American motion picture. It was so successful it prompted an industry that became known as Hollywood. It was so successful it was promptly remade in 19042.

Through the decades remakes have always been an option in Hollywood: The Bells 19263, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde 1941, The Magnificent Seven 1960. This is with good cause; movies, like hair and fashion, tend to date. Good movies that date due to dialogue, acting style, special effects, social attitudes et cetera can be revamped and remade (eg Invasion of the Body Snatchers 1978).

Remakes are a constant in today’s industry. Since the turn of this century they have been a staple in horror. What was previously a curiosity piece of subgenre (Night of the Living Dead 1990) is now a standard of exploitation (I Spit on Your Grave 2010). Hollywood has dropped all pretence at entertainment. The industry understands that human beings are drawn to moving pictures – as they are to fireworks and men kicking footballs. Quality control is now longer an issue. There is no longer an attempt for the remake to surpass the original.
remade in 2010
This Californian horror gold rush is not confined to the American back catalogue. Foreign films have an even better reason to be remade. Native English speakers do not speak a second language. They are suspicious and xenophobic of other tongues. They refuse to read subtitles and for good reason no one will watch a dubbed film. This leaves Hollywood producers with the incentive to stomp through the world waving their chequebooks.

Anyone on Earth who makes a horror movie and has a modicum of success will attract the attention of the carpetbaggers. This is excellent financial news for the local filmmaker in the short term. In the long term the native (cottage) industry erupts into a series of derivative clone all chasing the almighty dollar. Hollywood moves on and the result is J-Horror is left in a state of self parody.

Hollywood moves on to Sweden.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo 2009 is overhyped idiocy. That David Fincher is directing the remake does not guarantee narrative compos mentis. Let the Right One In 2008 is critically adored4 and beloved by viewers5. The film has a flawless narrative and a cinematic perspective. There are no leaps of faith needed and no plot holes to fill. The acting is performed naturally. There is no self consciousness or winks to the camera. This is cinema as it should be: the exploration of story resulting in the creation of folklore recorded in moving images.

Oskar is introduced in Travis Bickle mode. He is 12 years old and enraged in a subdued Swedish manner. The film is set in the early 1980s – the last gasp of the Cold War when Comrade Leonid Brezhnev was Chairman of the Supreme Soviet. A subdued Sweden shuddered in the Soviet shadow.

Oskar’s home life is not traumatic. His mother loves him but he knows she is ashamed of being divorced. He is lonely and his rage comes from being bullied at school. In his first sequence as he looks out of his bedroom window he sees Eli and her father moving into his tenement building.

Eli used to be 12 years old but she’s a vampire and that was a long time ago. The man assumed to be her father is actually her watchdog. One of his jobs is to kill for her. The camera captures the moment in long shot. There is no glorification in the murder. There is a detached finality. It is horrific – as are the other kills. The victims are ambushed like animals by animals.

Sweden in the snow can look beautiful but it is a frozen veneer that hides despair. It is a despondency imposed by climate and the then geopolitics. There is nothing to do but drink – at home or in the pub. Lacke dreams of escaping to the countryside. Oskar fantasizes about killing his tormentors.

Oskar tells Eli she smells funny. The next time they meet she’s showered and changed her clothes. She presents herself to him; “Do I smell better now?”
The watchdog doesn’t want her to have anything to do with Oskar. He used to be 12 years old too but that was a long time ago. Now he’s old. He knows he’s about to be replaced.

The beauty of this film is the love story. Children live in a world without adults. Adults may intrude in the form of authority but they are not welcome. They are excluded. Every now and again a loving parent may be acknowledged but the children understand that grownups are not to be trusted. It is after Oskar and Eli agree to go steady that he stands up to the bullies. If he has a girlfriend he’s got to be able to protect her.

Human beings are drawn to stories that reflect the human experience, desire and spirit. Let the Right One In is all three of these things. It is a horror film but much more than that it is a human film.
Empire Film Awards 2010
Mark out.
Matt Reeves6 is most famous for Cloverfield 2008 a monster movie that was a po-faced popcorn pic. Its box office success elevated Reeves above his station. It was on the back of this he got the gig to remake Let the Right One In.

Not every remake is a remake. Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde has been filmed more than 20 times7. Every version can claim adaptation or inspiration from the novella The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson (pub. 1886). Låt den rätte komma in by John Ajvide Lindqvist (pub. 2004) has two English translations. For his film Matt Reeves chose the title Let Me In 2010.

The movie could have been as disparate from the original as Red Dragon 2002 is to Manhunter 1986. It isn’t. While not a shot-for-shot remake like Psycho 1998 it is a plot-for-shot remake like The Omen 2006. Let Me In credits Matt Reeve’s screenplay to be based on the novel – and the original film.

Matt Reeves wants to eat his cake and have it.
Matt Reeves is not so much a fraudster as he is a counterfeiter. Given the opportunity to adapt the book he copied the film. Thus Let the Right One In has not been revised, re-evaluated or retold: it has been translated. This is perfect for the hoi polloi who answer their phones in a capacity auditorium but it is anti cinema. It is not an artist’s vision; it is a studio hack’s photostat.  

Let Me In is a well made clone. It attempts to replicate the tone of the original and succeeds in self contained yarn. What this version lacks that the Swedish film has in abundance is pathos. Let Me In is a disposable horror story punctuated with thriller set pieces.
This is the main difference between the two films. The American movie stresses action. The Swedish movie is imbued with mood. Let Me In makes more noise in its first sequence than the whole length of the original. An American film has to have a car chase.

Let Me In is not a bad film. It is a bad film by comparison. What’s most insulting about it is the regard Hollywood has for its own audience. American movie makers think that the American movie goer has to be force fed plot points and inference; that he cannot understand subtlety and abstract theme.

Let Me In has an 89% rating at Rotten Tomatoes.

Then perhaps this is the future template of remakes of foreign films. Perhaps a significant portion of the audience will then seek out the superior originals. Perhaps a new audience’s taste and demand will kill the remake subgenre as a horror staple.

The remaking of Let the Right One In was artistically unnecessary and an exercise in buccaneering. Matt Reeves knew that going in.
3 The Bells 1926
5 Let the Right One In Rotten Tomatoes
6 Matt Reeves IMDb
7 Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde IMDb
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