*. In his review of Let the Right One In Peter (“Can I have a pull quote?”) Travers urged audiences to see it before Hollywood came out with a remake. I think that’s almost always good advice, even after the fact. And when I heard that Matt Reeves was helming the remake I wasn’t thrilled (in fairness, Reeves says that he initially didn’t think Alfredson’s movie should have been re-made either). I did not think much of Cloverfield, particularly in its handling of the relationships between the characters. Full of such misgivings, I was pleasantly surprised by this film (as was Travers, by the way). I still wouldn’t rate it as highly as the original, but it’s very good.
*. It’s a very rare remake that will be as good as the original, in my opinion.
*. Critics of this film complained of it being too slavish a recapitulation of Alfredson’s (Mark Kermode called it “the most utterly redundant remake of the year”). I’m not sure this is fair, as it’s a special type of remake. I think of it more as a cover version, or translation.
*. There’s snow in Los Alamos? They have winter? I’m amazed at my provincial ignorance. I thought New Mexico was all a baked Southwestern desert.
*. I believe most of it was shot in Albuquerque, and in fact there wasn’t a lot of snow. They had to make snow, and it looks fake (it’s too light and powdery, and isn’t packed down or dirty on the walkways). Why they didn’t just set the damn movie in Michigan is beyond me.
*. It’s the 1980s. You can tell because Ronald Reagan is talking on TV. Reagan = ’80s. They even call them the “Reagan ’80s.” For good or ill, he defined the decade.
*. The Father’s method of hiding behind a car’s front seat is slightly more credible than you may think given how big the cars were back then. But it’s still silly. I find it telling that Reeves got the idea from a story he read about how a serial killer was caught doing this. When you get in your car it’s pretty easy to see if someone’s lying down back there. And what would he do if someone did see him? He’d be screwed right away. It’s not a good plan.
*. Note also that the first time we see him do it he sits up in the back seat long before he attacks the driver, which again means he would be noticed right away. Even if the driver weren’t looking into his rearview mirror the movement would alert him.
*. Let’s go through and note a few improvements, as well as changes that were not improvements on the original.
*. Improvement: Not showing the baffling cutaway to Abby’s pubic area. I think there’s no reason for audiences to think she isn’t anything other than a supernaturally long-lived little girl. I was stunned to learn that in fact Reeves had wanted to keep the backstory of Abby’s castration (and a scene suggesting this was actually shot and later cut). Look, you’re either going to explain this part of the story or not, but it makes no sense to put in confusing teasers that can’t be understood based on the information we’re given in the film itself. As it stands, I think the film is better without this. Anyone can see that Abby/Chloë Grace Moretz is a girl.
*. Not an improvement: The burning woman in the hospital room. I know they wanted to do something different than the iconic looking scene in the original, but the flames, most of which were real, for some reason look incredibly fake. And there’s no logic or necessity at all for the nurse to be engulfed in flames as well.
*. Improvement: We see Owen get out of the pool at the end and make a break for it. This makes a bit more sense than the original, where it’s never clear why Oskar doesn’t just swim away from his tormentors into the middle of the pool. Of course, once Owen is thrown into the pool here the same question has to be asked.
*. Improvement: The boys’ bodies all fall into the pool where they should, which is basically on top of Owen. As I said in my commentary on Let the Right One In, the arrangment of bodies at the end of that film doesn’t make sense.
*. Not an improvement: Transforming Abby’s voice and face when she turns into a vampire. She shouldn’t be a monster. I think she should look the same because it’s actually scarier in a way, and doesn’t suggest that she’s turning into a different sort of creature entirely.
*. The detective (Elias Koteas) seems like a decent guy, but . . . he’s bald, wears glasses, and has a moustache. Fuck it. Kill him.
*. Stephen King called this “the best American horror film of the last 20 years.” He would. This is his territory: the horror is a supernatural threat that parallels the more domestic threat facing the children of disintegrating families.
*. Owen shutting the door on the cop is a lovely touch. You can sense a real shift in the relationship between the Oskar/Eli and Owen/Abby. In Let the Right One In Oskar is more of an equal partner with Eli, and even shows signs of budding psychopathy. In this movie Owen is very much the submissive. I wonder if that was a conscious decision, supported by the change from Oskar being mocked as a “piggy” to Owen being called a “little girl.”
*. Owen is also quite the little spy, isn’t he? He’s always looking through doorways, or windows, or around walls at people. I’m not sure what thematic purpose this serves. Reeves could have built up a Rear Window-type atmosphere around the apartment blocks but he doesn’t.
*. I like Jenkins’s garbage-bag mask. It’s chilling in a low-budget sort of way. But if he has to take his glasses off to put it on, then how does he see? Maybe his eyesight isn’t that bad, but if I was trying to kill someone I’d want my glasses on.
*. Then again, the cop’s glasses appear and disappear in the story (the result of not having the right pair for Koteas when they started filming).
*. Jenkins is great, but he takes the sad sack role too far, I think. You have to wonder why Abby is making him do so much work, incompetently, when she is far more effective hunting on her own. That’s not a question I found myself asking in the original.
*. As with the original there is no real attempt to explain who the “Father” character is. I think this is a part of the story that really needed a substantial re-think when making the switch from page to screen. Ambiguity is one thing, but not enough information for the plot to make sense is another.
*. I think Chloë Grace Moretz is too damn cute. A real Owen wouldn’t be able to believe his luck in scoring with such a little princess. And hoodies weren’t so big in the early ’80s. Abby’s a contemporarly cool kid.
*. Oh. Owen’s mother is played by Cara Buono. What did she even look like? She’s downplayed in the original, but here her face is artfully concealed throughout. I think you only glimpse it clearly once, at a distance. And Owen’s father is written out almost entirely, just a voice on the other end of the phone.
*. In my notes on the original I remarked how religion played no role in the story at all. Religion is introduced here through Owen’s mom, but nothing is made of it, aside from highlighting how useless it is. I wonder if they originally thought they might do something more along these lines but then changed their minds.
*. Boy did they nail the bully right. From the narrowed eyes to the haircut that looks like a low-browed Norman helmet, Dylan Minnette really is the part. I remembered the type instantly. I wanted to beat the shit out of him.
*. Not sure why neither movie (this one or the original) tried to do a shock effect of discovering the body locked in ice. That would have been easy, but in both movies our the attention is elsewhere and we only see the body being chainsawed out later.
*. Photographed with some interesting colour coding. The sodium lights in the apartment blocks tinge the night exteriors in orange. Abby’s apartment is like an aquarium (or the swimming pool): all blues and greens. It’s a strong scheme, and gives the proceedings a painterly feel.
*. I got tired of the number of over-the-shoulder shots. I know it’s an obvious shot to go to with for this kind of material, but I didn’t think I should have been noticing it as much as I was.
*. Is it too long? Maybe a bit. It does have a pretty slack sense of narrative and I don’t think it builds suspense well. It’s a very safe remake. But all the main performances are really good and it does look nice.