Oscar Watch: Reeves Talks Let Me In--Not an Oscar Contender

by Anne Thompson
October 13, 2010 10:32 AM
13 Comments
  • |

Thompson on Hollywood
Let Me In is one of those strange tweener movies that is neither fish nor fowl. It was a fall festival hit, but movie audiences like their movies to fit into neat and tidy categories, and this one defiantly refuses to do that. Here's why.

It's a remake. Yes, director Matt Reeves decided to do an American redo of Scandinavian horror fave Let the Right One In (backed by Brit Hammer FIlms) but it's arguably better than its predecessor. He refused to age up the story to lure bigger stars, and kept the 80s Reagan-era suburban setting of his own youth, moved it to the wintry altitudes of Los Alamos, New Mexico, and focused on the heartbreaking loneliness of two neighbors in a housing complex, a bullied boy (Kodi Smit-McPhee) and a twelve-year-old girl who happens to be a blood-sucking vampire (Chloe Moretz). Overture in marketing the coming-of-age story tried to find a way to let fans of the original know that this wasn't a casual rip-off, but a personal reinvention with a strong point-of-view.

It's a box office dud: Unfortunately, the film opened with less than 50 per cent overall tracking awareness, which is anemic for a wide release film and indicates a lack of marketing support; better to have platformed it than to go wide without the proper amount of media behind it.

Thompson on Hollywood
It's a bloody, violent R-rated art film. I liked this movie so much that I showed it to my UCLA Sneak Previews class and watched aghast as quite a few of them peeled off; they couldn't see the artistry for the violence. The majority braved the movie and recognized its caliber--but this is why Let Me In isn't performing at the box office. (It's holding on to 1200 screens this weekend, but I'd go see it fast.) The art house crowd tends to be older, proper folks who are too-sensitive for realistic blood-spurting thrills. And the mainstream audience doesn't want its gore presented as an intimate naturalistic English-language European art-film.

It boasts the year's best score. One reason that I didn't expect so many of the Sneak Previews crowd to bolt was that I had seen the film before the preview without the score by last year's Oscar-winner Michael Giacchino (Lost, Up), which upped the dread and intensity quite a few notches. The film moves from delicate interludes with two young people learning to love each other to brutal school bullying and horrifying, animal-like vampire attacks, as well as what looks like the pathologically methodical murders of a serial killer (Richard Jenkins).

It has three of the best performances this year. Reeves' coaching from mentor Steven Spielberg on working with children paid off in spades. The two kids kept journals and Reeves listened to them; Smit-McPhee suggested one close-up shot of a toy on the floor that Reeves shot. Smit-McPhee is far more compelling and accessible than he was in The Road, and Moretz plays a nomadic 250 year-old vampire emotionally trapped at pre-adolescence with a strange, soft, yearning dignity. "I am 12, I've just been 12 for a very long time," she says. And the always outstanding Jenkins (who Reeves met at an Overture party for The Visitor, for which he was Oscar-nominated) is heartrending in the role of the always-young vampire girl's wearily grizzled, sad and tender caretaker. What would drive a man to be this way? Jenkins' eyes are the movie's center; he still haunts me.

Director Reeves has a stunning career ahead of him. The brilliant conceit behind Reeves' debut Cloverfield was the notion of shooting a giant monster attack on Manhattan from the POV of a hand-held video camera. It worked. The guy's a smart writer/director with Hitchcockian instincts and ambition, brainy ideas, visual panache--he shot this with 35 mm anamorphic lenses--and acting chops. What's not to like? Well, in this case he didn't foresee the tweener problem. He made a smart horror movie--much as Sam Raimi did with Drag Me to Hell --without realizing how it would or would not play. "It's a vampire story but like Cloverfield, it's not a genre film," says Reeves, who resonated with the bullying. "It's so clearly personal. It kept digging into me...You can't discount the connection and love these people have. And you can't discount the darkness." One creepy thing Reeves pulls off in the film is to draw the audience--inspired by Dial M for Murder, he admits-- into identifying with characters doing upsetting, nasty things of which they would never approve.

It's a critics' fave. The movie isn't scoring with moviegoers even though critics loved it:

"An imaginative and largely intact retelling of this gory, troubling, uniquely sweet and uniquely dark vampire tale."--Salon's Andrew O'Hehir

"The subtext of the relationship is not sexuality, as it is in "Twilight" or "True Blood," but rather the loneliness of children and their often unrecognized reservoirs of rage."--A.O.Scott, The New York Times

"Those hoping to see a 'vampire movie' will be surprised by a good film." --Roger Ebert The Chicago Sun Times

It won't be an Oscar contender, even with rave reviews, for all the reasons above. But Overture is smart to present the movie to critics groups because year-end kudos could help move some DVDs. The critics aren't hung up on the horror genre (even if the Academy generally is: Jonathan Demme's Silence of the Lambs is the exception that proves the rule) and could lavish some awards on Let Me In. And that could inspire film fans to add it to their Netflix queues.

[Photo of Matt Reeves courtesy of the Los Angeles Times)

You might also like:

13 Comments

  • Jill | May 22, 2011 2:03 AMReply

    @ Ray:

    "I loved Let Me In, and was surprised how little a great movie was marketed. It’s the greatest movie people have never seen."

    Huh? I'm more heart broken that LTROI was barely even marketed in the States than it's American cousin.

  • Rey | February 9, 2011 7:04 AMReply

    I'm not an art house kind of guy first off. I bought the original and did not like it. I stopped watching it when Eli's protector was draining a victim for blood in a well lit, wide open forest. I loved Let Me In, and was surprised how little a great movie was marketed. It's the greatest movie people have never seen.

  • Anne Thompson | October 18, 2010 5:04 AMReply

    another revealing stat on Let Me In was low Cinemascore. That could argue against the limited release plan Mary was suggesting, or it could mean that mainstream ads misled people who didn't like what they saw, when slower WOM pacing could have pulled the right people in.

  • Anne Thompson | October 18, 2010 4:37 AMReply

    While comparisons to big-budget studio dark horror comedy Drag Me to Hell and low-budget naturalistic horror drama Let Me In may seem apples to oranges (and I like both), they both were too smart for the room in terms of mainstream horror appeal--which is how they were sold.

    Others in this category: Jennifer's Body, Splice--any other candidates?

  • vatzjr@gmail.com | October 17, 2010 2:09 AMReply

    Also, the score is one of the best I've heard in a while.

    Insneider: Camp can be smart. And just because there are some fun and silly yucks thrown in doesn't dumb it down.

  • Vince in Weho | October 17, 2010 2:01 AMReply

    Let Me In: "arguably better than its predecessor." I would argue the opposite. Though, this remake was better than most, as it recreated its own world and borrowed from most of the original's strengths, it did not have, obviously, the originality, nor did it reach the chilling heights of its progenitor. I found the remake engaging up until the finale, which paled in comparison to the swimming pool scene of the original. Just because Reeves refused to compromise doesn't give him extra points for the final product. "Let the Right One In" was simply a modern classic and one of the best vampire movie ever made.

  • mary | October 14, 2010 11:25 AMReply

    Thank you, Paulo! and I think that what you said are mostly right!

    On the other hand, Rogue's films were released by Universal (with P&A money from Relativity), and Universal clearly didn't do good enough job to release Rogue's films. But if Overture/Relativity don't learn from their mistake, I don't think that they will do better jobs than Universal.

    Eric, the critical reaction of "Let Me In" is strong enough to lure sophisticated audience (even for the audience who had seen the original). Afterall, most of "Infernal Affairs" audience still watched "The Departed".

  • Scott Macaulay | October 14, 2010 10:35 AMReply

    Good piece. I'll admit, I haven't seen the film. I'm in the camp that saw the remake as kind of unnecessary. I think perhaps for fans of the original it just feels too soon. And, while the word was that it was respectful, maybe it felt too much so -- not like a wholesale reinvention with a completely different point of view. But, over at Filmmaker, Nicholas Rombes felt the same was as me and he just wrote about wanting to hate but liking it instead:

    http://filmmakermagazine.com/news/2010/10/into-the-splice-let-me-in/

  • Joe Valdez | October 14, 2010 9:45 AMReply

    I'm the primary demographic for Let Me In -- loved the original, enjoy arthouse fare, keep reading great reviews -- but won't pay money to see it in a theater because I don't have a job right now. I would like to apologize to Matt Reeves personally. Filmmakers can't win for losing right now.

  • Paulo | October 14, 2010 7:32 AMReply

    Anne,
    It's great that you pointed how wonderful this film is. It truly deserves more respect in the awards race and I agree with Mary and Eric's commnets above. Similar to "Switch" with Disney and Miramax, "Let Me In" was mishandled by Relativity who threw it to the wind after inheriting it from Overture. Overture originally had high hopes for this film, it would be a miracle if Relativity decides to spend any kind of kudo marketing dollars. The film should have been platformed in arthouses, rather than being sold as a Lionsgate horror film.

    It should also be mentioned that while Relativity does a great job co-financing other studio's films, so far they've had a horrible record with their own Rogue label. True, Rogue is suppose to be a genre label with low-budgeted films, but they're not even making a profit at the box office.

  • Eric Melin | October 14, 2010 3:24 AMReply

    It's nice to see you stand up for this film, Anne. I thought it was a very personal movie and Reeves did a great job of making it resonate within its new setting. I agree that its a movie that - unfortunately - doesn't fit in anywhere. I thought with the TV ad campaign that they were selling it like a typical mainstream horror flick, but that audience (who prefer formula) didn't buy it and stayed away. All the people who would enjoy it (and had probably seen the original) wrote it off as a "needless" remake, which I thought it might be until I actually saw the movie. Now I'm pleasantly surprised to see that there are two effective adaptations of a great book.

  • mary | October 14, 2010 2:15 AMReply

    I think that Overture/Relativity totally mishandle "Stone" and "Let Me In".

    Overture/Relativity should have opened the mixed-reviewed "Stone" in more theaters (not in wide release, but in 200-400 theaters opening).

    On the other hand, Overture/Relativity should have opened "Let Me In" in much fewer theaters and platform the film from there. "Let Me In" is the film that require careful handling, just likes "Moon" and "Slumdog Millionaire".

  • The InSneider | October 14, 2010 2:09 AMReply

    Nice piece Anne, but I feel the comparison to Raimi's Drag Me to Hell is way off. That movie may have gotten strong reviews too, but I thought it was awful and more of a campy joke than originally intended. Let Me In is smart horror... Drag Me was just silly. I preferred Reeves' remake to the orignal, BTW.

Free Indie Movies and Documentaries    

Email Updates

Most "Liked"

  • LISTEN: On KCRW's The Treatment, Mindy ...
  • Brad Pitt to Star in David Michôd's ...
  • Arthouse Audit: 'Only Lovers Left Alive' ...
  • Fox's Jim Gianopulos to Deliver USC ...
  • Pulitzer Prize Winners Unveiled
  • The Highs and Lows of the Meaningless ...
  • Watch: Highlights from Seth Rogen's ...
  • Box Office Top Ten: 'Captain America' ...
  • Career Watch: As 'Mad Men' Enters Its ...
  • WATCH: Guillermo Arriaga's Anthology ...