Yes, it is a remake of a film released only two years ago. Yes, the original film is absolutely fine on its own merits. And yes, in Let Me In, writer/director Matt Reeves improves on certain elements of Tomas Alfredson’s Let the Right One In.

Like the original, the film succeeds mainly for its subverted view of the clichéd coming-of-age plot. The story is the same. Boy meets girl. Girl is vampire. Good things happen to them, because/while horrible deaths await almost everyone who is sucked into the growing black hole that is their life together — destructive for all but them.

The major difference is Reeves’s screenplay, which condenses the strands of a whole subplot involving unconnected victims, introduces a character to tie them off, and brings to light a new, haunting dimension to the central relationship.

The boy is named Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee), and he lives in an apartment complex with his mother (Cara Buono) in Los Alamos, New Mexico. Dad is gone, and only a single, late-night telephone call with a broken or forgotten promise connects them. He is being bullied at school by a group of boys led by Kenny (Dylan Minnette), whose older brother (Brett DelBuono) harasses him (the cyclical nature of violence is much clearer this time around). The torment escalates from verbal abuse to physical violence and threats of more. Late at night, alone in the courtyard, Owen stabs away at a tree with a knife he has just bought, calling the imagined victim the same names his own aggressors call him.

That is how Owen meets Abby (Chloë Grace Mortez), whom he watched moving into the building with her father (Richard Jenkins) from his window. With his acclimation for voyeurism and the hint of a desire for violence, this is a troubled kid, and in Abby, who stands barefoot in the snow and on a jungle gym just watching him, he finds a friend.

They are both 12, although she has been that age for a long time. We know this fairly early on, but it takes some hints for Owen to catch on. They go on a “date” to the local convenience store (Owen steals a 20 from his mom’s wallet — just more antisocial behavior), and he introduces Abby to his favorite: taffy. She cannot ingest it and vomits. Owen grabs her in an embrace, feeling bad for causing her harm, even so indirectly. His feelings for her suggest a sense of normalcy in the kid, and yet there’s the irony: If there was ever the wrong person for him to become so attached to, Abby is it.

Her father (which is a title both true and false) has a late-night hobby of his own. He waits in the back of the car of an unsuspecting victim, drugs them unconscious, and drains them of their blood, and it’s all for Abby’s sake. Without him, she has to obtain the red stuff on her own. In one such instance, she sits in an enclosed walkway, feigning injury for and pleading for help from an anonymous walker. Mortez’s performance plays with this dichotomy of age and appearance along with sincerity and manipulation. Is Abby still at the psychological and emotional stage of a 12-year-old, or has she been playing one for so long that it’s impossible to tell the difference?

That question is at the heart of the relationship between Owen and Abby. There is still the sweet and innocent love story (Abby asking if he likes her, Owen telling her that he “really likes” her, Owen asking her to go to steady with him, and Abby wondering what that means), but it is a façade for their darker intentions. Owen wants to stop the bullies, and Abby advises him to fight back. We know he has the desire, but does he have the nerve? If he does, what does that mean to Abby, who has a need to kill or have someone kill for her? A literal blood-stained kiss becomes the defining metaphor.

Their relationship works as well as it does in the original film, and Reeves’s adaptation trims the fat off of John Ajvide Lindqvist’s first screenplay, which was based on his own novel. The chain of Abby’s victims is tightened, and a policeman (Elias Koteas) investigating the deaths that begin with Abby’s father’s first victim becomes a through line for the events that threaten Abby’s harmful cohabitation with the neighborhood.

It’s an overall richer experience, even if it is at the expense of Alfredson’s bleak and all-encompassing somber tone (Reeves exchanges the stark bright whites for the amber nights and blue interiors of a typical ’80s horror lighting scheme). Let Me In is not just a retread of familiar material but also a remake that dares to improve and expand upon its source, and the film does so successfully.

Mark Dujsik is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Online Film Critics Society. For more of his reviews, visit his website.

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