What is it about subtitles that sends American moviegoers stampeding from a theater like the place is on fire? Or is it the unfamiliar sound of foreign dialogue that people flee? The sight of strange, strip-mall-free locations on the screen, perhaps? Could it be that, as a nation, we are simply too lazy to pop Milk Duds and read at the same time?
Whatever the root of the phenomenon, an entire subindustry has gradually come into existence, a Hollywood assembly line designed precisely not to manufacture anything new, but to produce Americanized replicas of films from other countries. As with French fries, pizza and Chinese food, we want our own version adapted to our tastes.
As far as I know, we’re the only country that does this. Consider how many different languages are spoken around the world. And yet you don’t hear about Japanese versions of Austin Powers or Russian redos of Goodfellas. What does it say about us that we feel compelled constantly to fix that which is not broken?
Not remotely broken is Swedish director Tomas Alfredson’s 2008 cult favorite Let the Right One In, the mournfully beautiful tale of a lonely 12-year-old boy and a pretty preteen vampire who bond while draining half the blood out of a snow-covered Stockholm suburb. Yet here we have Cloverfield director Matt Reeves’ English-language remake.
On the one hand, it’s a shame audiences in this country are so spoiled and subtitle-phobic. On the other, this is the rare case of an American filmmaker crafting a remake almost as good as the original. Reeves understands what made Let the Right One In such a lovely, hypnotic and original work of cinema and, while he did change the title, he wisely changed very little else.
Snowy suburban New Mexico substitutes for snowy Stockholm, and we find ourselves in the ’80’s watching Reagan on TV and listening to “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?” on the radio. Otherwise, our story remains mostly intact.
Kodi Smit-McPhee is Owen, a child of divorce bullied at school and ignored by his boozehound mother at home. Chloë Moretz is his mysterious new neighbor, Abby. “We can’t be friends,” she announces, standing barefoot in the snow, when they first meet. They become something infinitely more interesting.
As the boy discovers, Abby is a vampire and very possibly immortal. “I’m not a girl,” she tells him, once trust has been established. “I’m nothing.” She is, however, the reason dead bodies keep turning up all over town.
Reeves takes an approach to the movie’s violent sequences that is flashier than Alfredson’s but no less effective. They’re particularly unsettling in contrast to the tenderness of the scenes in which the two outcasts share secrets and grow close. Both young actors deliver haunting performances. Based on the novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist, this may very well be the weirdest love story ever told.
Is Reeve’s remake the right version for you, or would you find the original superior? In the end, of course, that’s a question of personal taste. All I can tell you with certainty is that either version has more emotional and artistic bite than anything you’ll see in comparatively minor-league fangfests such as Twilight and “True Blood.”