Let Me In (Blu-ray)
Mixing vampires with a coming-of-age story isn’t a new idea, but John Ajvide Lindqvist’s novel, Let the Right One In, took it to creepier places than Joss Whedon or Stephanie Meyer ever imagined. The 2008 Swedish film of the same name, scripted by Lindqvist and directed by Tomas Alfredson, was an international success and worked so well that, when producers approached writer/director Matt Reeves about an American remake, he initially turned it down. Reeves didn’t think he could do better, but as he re-read the novel and corresponded with Lindqvist, he found himself drawn to the story’s emotional core: that of a young boy so alienated and mistreated by those around him that his only solace is friendship with a supernatural creature that preys on humans. Real emotion develops between these two, and it’s that bond, far more than any gory effects or “boo!” edits, that makes Let Me In both memorable and disturbing.
Studio: Anchor Bay Entertainment
Film Length: 115 min.
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
HD Encoding: 1080p
HD Codec: AVC
Audio: Dolby TrueHD 5.1 (DD 5.1 compatibility track at 640kb/ps)
Subtitles: English SDH; Spanish
Disc Format: 1 50GB + 1 DVD (digital copy)
Package: Keepcase with lenticular slipcover
Theatrical Release Date: Oct. 1, 2010
Blu-ray Release Date: Feb. 1, 2011
Two warnings before we begin, one technical and one plot-related.
Anchor Bay has mastered this Blu-ray so that it automatically downloads an update when it loads, if your player is connected to the internet. The disc doesn’t ask permission, and there is no progress indicator during the download. I don’t know what the download does, because I gave up waiting for it to complete after five minutes. If your player has a live internet connection and doesn’t provide a setting to reject downloads you haven’t authorized, I suggest disconnecting before you insert the disc. Without an internet connection, the disc should load quickly. (Note to content providers: Always let the user choose whether or not to accept a download.)
With respect to the plot, Reeves treated Lindqvist’s story respectfully, which means that his film generally tracks Alfredson’s Swedish film. But there are changes, and a big one is the opening. Reeves begins in the middle, then flashes back several weeks to show how we arrived at that point. It’s a narrative strategy that no doubt reflects Reeves’s extensive TV experience, but it’s also appropriate for a film that wants to show certain characters from different perspectives (and yes, I’m being deliberately vague). Anyone familiar with the Swedish original will immediately identify where the opening fits into the story, but first-time viewers will have the fun of being initially mystified and then gradually enlightened. For them, what follows may be something of a spoiler, and they might want to consider skipping to the technical sections.
Twelve-year-old Owen (The Road’s amazing Kodi Smit-McPhee) lives a hellish, lonely life in Los Alamos, New Mexico, circa 1983. He is mercilessly bullied at school by a gang led by Kenny (Dylan Minette from Saving Grace); they call him “little girl”, and when he is alone, Owen imagines himself returning the insult and viciously striking back instead of cowering in fear. At home, Owen’s parents are preoccupied by a bitter divorce. Owen lives with his mother, whose face we never see, because much of the film is shot from a kid’s-height perspective. The mother is played by Mad Men’s Cara Buono, while Owen’s father is an uncredited voice on the telephone. (Reeves identifies the voice in the commentary, and if you listen closely, you might recognize it.)
In an obvious nod to Rear Window, Owen spends his spare time staring out his bedroom window at neighboring apartments. One night he watches new neighbors arrive in a taxi: an older man and a young girl. The next evening, when Owen is sitting in the snowy courtyard of his apartment complex, the young girl suddenly appears. She is Abby (Chloë Grace Moretz, Kick-Ass’s Hit Girl), and she has a strange air about her. She walks barefoot in the snow, doesn’t feel the cold and tells Owen they can’t be friends. Still, Abby keeps appearing in the courtyard every evening, and she and Owen haltingly become acquainted.
Meanwhile, the man that Owen thinks is Abby’s father goes about his business, and it’s not a nice affair. “The Father” is played by the great Richard Jenkins, who speaks no more than a dozen lines but creates an intense presence that resonates throughout the film. Haggard, limping and with downcast eyes behind cracked spectacles, The Father is one of the most lackadaisical serial killers in film history. His activities become the focus of an intense police detective (Elias Koteas). A sincere and well-intentioned public servant, the detective keeps trying to make sense of the strange events happening in his city, even as it dawns on him (“Jesus, Mary and Joseph!”) that this isn’t the kind of case taught at the police academy.
(The detective is a another departure from the Swedish script and one of many indications that Reeves knows his Hitchcock. The detective assumes key plot functions that the Swedish film assigned to townspeople, while simultaneously answering the question that Hitchcock always tried to satisfy: “Why doesn’t someone call the police?” Here, the police are right there from the outset – and it doesn’t help.)
Let Me In includes enough blood and icky effects to satisfy the traditional horror crowd, but its real impact comes from the complex friendship between Owen and Abby – or is it a romance? The scenes are so sensitively performed by the two young actors and edited with such finesse by Stan Salfas (a Felicity veteran) that you could watch them over and over and still find new emotional shadings. These kids may be too young to fully partake in the romantic passions expressed in Romeo and Juliet, which Owen is reading for school, but their yearnings are no less intense. (Like Owen, Abby is twelve, but she’s been that age “for a very long time”.) Both of them know isolation and loneliness, and both of them respond with a kind of ferocious animal passion when they’re threatened to the core. The difference is that Abby’s existence really is imperiled when she can’t get human blood. Owen’s risk of obliteration at the hands of Kenny and his gang is more psychological, but to him it feels no less real, and Kodi Smit-McPhee makes you feel Owen’s terror.
It’s Abby who encourages Owen to fight back, and eventually he does. In this respect, they’re more like best friends, and the scenes where they play video games and visit Owen’s secret hideaway reinforce that aspect of the relationship. But there are multiple elements in every scene between Abby and Owen, and I defy anyone to say, with complete certainty, what they’ve really become to each other by the end of the film.
Reeves’s script has omitted, but not overtly rejected, key elements of Abby’s backstory that were explicit in Lindquist’s novel and included, fleetingly, in Alfredson’s film. (I’m being vague on purpose, though Reeves covers this in detail in his commentary.) But Let Me In retains various thematic elements that reference this history, and even invents new ones that add to the general sense of menace. It’s an effective demonstration of a principle espoused by the writer Ernest Hemingway, who maintained that cutting out a story element can cause it to be felt even more deeply.
As noted by Robert Harris, the Blu-ray image for Let Me In was derived from a digital intermediate, and the disc accurately reproduces the theatrical image (which I saw). Reeves notes in his commentary that the film’s cinematography (by Australian DP Greig Fraser, who also shot Jane Campion’s Bright Star) was strongly influenced by the work of Gordon Willis. This is apparent in the intense contrasts, sometimes within the same frame, between cool blue tones (mostly in scenes that don’t involve Owen) and warm yellows (especially in the apartment courtyard). Black levels are exceptional, which is especially important in the many night scenes, and detail is impressive, even in deep shadow. I did not see any signs of digital artifacting or inappropriate use of noise reduction.
The Dolby TrueHD track nicely reproduces the atmospheric mix, which has a subtle sense of ambiance appropriate to each environment, along with some understated, but dramatic, surround effects in key sequences. Bass extension is strong, while dialogue remains clear and natural-sounding. The score by Michael Giacchino is exceptional, ranging from fearful and foreboding to an almost aching romanticism.
Commentary by Writer/Director Matt Reeves. Reeves speaks continuously about the film’s themes, his personal identification with the original novel and Swedish film, the casting and his choices as director and writer. He also points out numerous CGI shots that are sufficiently subtle that they would otherwise go unnoticed.
From the Inside: A Look at the Making of Let Me In (HD; 1.78:1) (17:04). An unusually good documentary with interviewees including Reeves, Jenkins, Smit-McPhee, Moretz and several of the producers. Offering greater depth than the usual studio EPK, it contains footage taken both on set and on location and provides genuine insight into the approach taken by the filmmakers.
The Art of Special Effects (HD; 2.35:1) (6:29). This feature offers numerous stages of various effects shots in the film, including pre-visualization, background plates, animatics and layers of computer graphics.
Car Crash Sequence Step-By-Step (SD; 2.35:1, enhanced for 16:9) (5:34). Narrated by an unidentified voice that sounds like Reeves over a telephone connection, this featurette provides an unusually detailed look at how a particularly striking sequence in the film was accomplished.
Picture-in-Picture Blu-ray Exclusive: Dissecting Let Me In. As readers of my previous reviews may recall, I am not a fan of PIP features, but for those who enjoy them, engaging this option opens a window in the lower right of the screen that displays interviews and behind-the-scenes footage during the film. I prefer to watch such material separately, but there must be viewers who enjoy the PIP format, because disc producers continue to include it.
Deleted Scenes (SD; 2.35:1, enhanced for 16:9) (5:06). Three scenes are included, each with optional commentary by Reeves. Probably the most significant is one in which Abby psychically shares a memory with Owen; Reeves’s explanation for its removal is compelling.
Poster and Still Gallery. This is one of the best arranged and most flexibly navigable images collections I’ve encountered, but the downside is that it takes a while to load. The poster collection includes several I hadn’t seen before (and wouldn’t mind owning). The photos are almost all behind-the-scenes images, which I find more interesting than publicity stills.
Trailers. Both greenband and redband trailers for the film are included as separate extras. At startup, the disc plays trailers for Stone and Jack Goes Boating; these can be skipped with the chapter forward button and are separately available from the features menu, along with trailers for The Crazies, The Disappearance of Alice Creed, I Spit on Your Grave and And Soon the Darkness.
Digital Copy. A digital copy is included on a separate disc. It has an expiration date of Dec. 31, 2011.
Let Me In: Crossroads. This is the first of a four-issue comic book prequel to the film. It recounts the experiences of Abby and The Father before they arrived in Los Alamos.
Lindqvist has acknowledged that his novel has substantial autobiographical elements. Like Owen, he was severely bullied as a child, and someone like Abby is no doubt the kind of playmate (or alter ego) he might have wished for. Therein lies one of the most unsettling elements of Let Me In. Kodi Smit-McPhee and Chloë Moretz have angelic faces and earnest personas, as did the two young Swedish actors who played the equivalent characters in Let the Right One In. But a lot of people die gruesome deaths because of Abby and Owen, and most of them don’t deserve it. Both Reeves and the director of the Swedish film, Tomas Alfredson, have said that they view the story’s conclusion as a happy one. In that sense, Lindqvist wrote himself a happy ending by authoring a novel in which an imaginary vampire acted out his (and Owen’s) revenge fantasies in the most brutal fashion imaginable. Meanwhile, Owen smiles sweetly and keeps tapping out the Morse code that he and Abby use to communicate with each other when Abby is “resting” by day.
But what about the Owens who don’t have the talent for such solutions? What do they do when they grow up?
Equipment used for this review:
Panasonic BDP-BD50 Blu-ray player (TrueHD decoded internally and output as analog)
Samsung HL-T7288W DLP display (connected via HDMI)
Lexicon MC-8 connected via 5.1 passthrough
Sunfire Cinema Grand amplifier
Monitor Audio floor-standing fronts and MA FX-2 rears
Boston Accoustics VR-MC center
SVS SB12-Plus sub
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