Let Me In opens on an ambulance racing through a snowy New Mexico night. A badly burned man is taken to the hospital. When the cops show up, the man leaps from his room’s window. Before we jump back in time to two weeks earlier, director Matt Reeves (Cloverfield) lingers on a television showing Ronald Reagan speechifying about evil: “There is sin and evil in the world,” Reagan intones, suggestively.
It’s an effective start, if an unsubtle one. Let Me In, which is set in 1983, follows 12-year-old Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee), a put-upon kid, bullied at school and generally ignored by his wine-sipping, grace-saying mother. The arrival of a young new neighbor — mysterious Abby (Chloe Grace Moretz), who appears only at night, and often barefoot — is a chance for Owen, who seems oblivious to Abby’s covered windows and strange nocturnal behavior, to make a new friend.
Reeves effectively builds tension in the space between the two kids and the rest of the world: Out there, Abby is fearsome, Owen fearful, but together, they try to be something different. But too often, Let Me In is awkwardly heavy-handed, as when Owen, freaked out by what Abby is capable of, calls his father to ask if there’s evil in the world. Let Me In’s story doesn’t work as a dull musing on the nature of evil; it’s at its best when it’s a supernatural vision of the loneliness of kids, and the lengths to which people can go when they connect with another. The ideas and themes are there, but they don’t fully resonate, perhaps because the connection between Owen and Abby plays out less as genuine affection and more like she’s grooming him to play a certain role in her unnaturally long life.
Let Me In flips back and forth between the gorgeous and alluring — cinematographer Greig Fraser does beautiful things with snow and light — and bland and clichéd (Abby’s vampire visage looks pieced together from someone’s notion of what cinematic vampires are required to look like). The most disappointing thing about this American remake of the atmospheric Swedish film Let the Right One In isn’t that truncated title, sapped of its oblique appeal; it’s not the bossy score, which rarely opts for just a pulsing throb or neurotic strings when both are at hand. It’s that the film feels like a soulless creature itself: made up of all the right pieces, but missing something at the core. — Molly Templeton