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(2010) (Kodi Smit-McPhee, Chloe Grace Moretz) (R)

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Horror/Thriller: A bullied 12-year-old boy befriends a girl who's just moved in next door, unaware that she's really a vampire.
It's 1983 and Owen (KODI SMIT-McPHEE) is a 12-year-old boy leading an unhappy life in Los Alamos, New Mexico where he lives with his mother (CARA BUONO) who drowns her unhappiness in wine over her failing marriage (her husband, Owen's father, has already moved out). To make matters worse, Owen must contend with the school bully, Kenny (DYLAN MINNETTE), and his two goons who make his life a living hell from which there seems to be no escape.

But thinks look up a bit when a girl who appears to be his age, Abby (CHLOE GRACE MORETZ), moves in next door with a man (RICHARD JENKINS) Owen believes to be her father. Although she initially tells Owen they can't be friends just because that's the way it is, they do become just that, although he only sees her at night -- often barefoot -- out in their complex's snowy courtyard.

Little does he know that her father figure also goes out at night to abduct, kill and bleed victims, all to feed Abby who turns out to be a vampire forever stuck at the age of 12. His actions have drawn the attention of a local cop (ELIAS KOTEAS) who starts to zero in on the suspect, all of which threatens Abby's source of life-sustaining nourishment. As that occurs and Owen must contend with Kenny and his bullying, he and Abby continue their unlikely friendship that continues even after he eventually realizes her true nature.

OUR TAKE: 7.5 out of 10
I've always been intrigued by the fact that parents of young actors and actresses will often let their children appear in R-rated or at least non-kid friendly films, but then won't let them see the finished product until they're older. Granted, the actual making of a movie is far removed from the final product, but you have to wonder what effect even just the acting has on young performers. After all, Hollywood is littered with many who grew up with or having to kick various behavioral problems.

All of which leads us to Chloe Moretz, an up and coming Hollywood star. Now 13, she already has thirty-some acting credits to her name, but some of her better known roles might make some question the effect they could have on her later and/or what her parents/guardians/management team were thinking by allowing her involvement. For instance, she appeared in the horror thriller "The Amityville Horror," as well as the action pic "Kick-Ass" where she played a pint-sized, profanity spewing and deadly violent superhero.

And now she's one of the stars of "Let Me In," an American remake of the acclaimed but little seen Swedish film "Let the Right One In." Most likely green lit in the height of Hollywood's obsession with bloodsuckers following the success of "Twilight," HBO's "True Blood" and others of their ilk, the film is about a bullied boy who befriends and is befriended by a young girl who just so happens to be a vampire.

I've never seen the original film so comparisons are moot, but I have to admit I'm currently tired of all things vampire related and thus wasn't particularly thrilled about seeing this pic. That's despite other reviewers giving the original rave reviews and especially since American remakes of foreign horror flicks usually throw out the nuances in favor of special effects and broadly played horror & suspense.

That said, I'm happy to report that the offering isn't just an exceptional film about vampires, but it's also a terrific one about childhood in terms of friends, enemies (e.g. bullies), family life and kids feeling like they'll be trapped forever in whatever unhappy situation in which they currently find themselves. Yes, the themes run deep in this film right alongside the horror and suspense and the result is one of the best entries of its genre.

At its core, it's about resilience. Young Owen (a terrific Kodi Smit-McPhee who you might recognize from the far bleaker "The Road" playing Viggo Mortensen's son) doesn't lead a happy life. As he states, no one moves to his town (Los Alamos in the early '80s), his seemingly alcoholic mom is divorcing his dad, he doesn't have any friends, and the school bully (Dylan Minnette) and his two goons are making his life a living hell. It's telling that he uses his bedroom telescope to spy on other apartment dwellers, looking for an escape from his bleak reality.

Things seem to look up when a girl his age (Moretz) moves in next door with a man (Richard Jenkins, brilliant as always) everyone figures is her father. While she initially tells Owen they can't be friends because "that's just the way it is," they eventually do become good pals, always meeting out in the snow-covered courtyard at night. The fact that she's barefoot in such chilly conditions strikes him as odd, as does her dismissal of his candy offer and then retching from finally deciding to try some. Yet, he doesn't dismiss her over that, another telling sign considering all that's about to transpire. After all, he doesn't think she's any more screwed up than he is.

But, of course, she has her issues, namely a serious aversion to sunlight and a steady appetite for human blood, not to mention that while Owen thinks he'll forever be stuck in childhood hell, she actually is. Jenkins plays her hemoglobin supplier, a man who's getting too old for such violence and has been doing it for too long (the reason, we learn, is even more disturbing than our initial assumption of paternal care, if you will). When things go amiss regarding all of that, the young vampire finds her situation threatened, especially with an investigating cop (Elias Koteas) edging closer and closer to finding his serial killer culprit.

Although the basic storyline doesn't offer a lot of surprises (Hmm, I wonder what's going to happen to the bullies?), it's the small nuances -- in terms of those themes, shot selection and stellar performances -- that make the film so good. And who would have guessed that the director of the over-the-top, shaky-cam monster film "Cloverfield" would be able to pull off this far more subdued film? But that's exactly what writer/director Matt Reeves does in his adaptation of John Ajvide Lindqvist's novel and subsequent screenplay from the original film.

Notwithstanding reports that some of the scenes are nearly shot-for-shot from "Let The Right One In" or that some of the attack special effects sequences look a little fake, and that we could have done without the standard views of vampires suddenly having glowing eyes when in hunting mode, the filmmaker has crafted an eerie and actually quite engaging little horror flick.

But he, and thus the film in general, greatly benefits from the terrific performances delivered by young Smit-McPhee and Moretz who perfectly nail their parts and make us truly care about them and their friendship. While only time will tell if appearing in such a flick will have any long-term effect on them, those two performers are the heart and soul of the pic and make it work from start to finish. A rare American remake of a foreign horror film that's actually good, "Let Me In" rates as a 7.5 out of 10.

Reviewed September 24, 2010 / Posted October 1, 2010

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