Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Scare Me Once, Shame on You. Scare Me Twice...

"Just So You Know, I Won't Be Your Friend"

Let Me In is an American remake of Let the Right One In, the terrifically creepy 2008 Swedish film—(here's my review of that here).  For those who hate sub-titles, this is probably a good thing.  And what's good about the original is slavishly copied here, but director Matt Reeves (Cloverfield) does some good things (and a couple bad) to move the situations from frozen Sweden to a wintry Los Alamos, New Mexico.* The best thing is the acting.  Let Me In includes such great thesps as Richard Jenkins (a fine actor and more people will see him in this than any other film he's done) and Elias Koteas.  But, it's the kids who are the best thing about it.  Anyone who's seen Kick-Ass already knows Chloe Moretz is terrific, but this is less of a joke-performance, and plumbs the depths of what she can do dramatically.  Her  waif, Abby ("I'm 12...more or less") starts out alarmingly strange, but as the movie progresses, the character turns more vulnerable and sympathetic—far more than Lina Leandersson in the original.  But, the stand-out here is Kodi Smit-McPhee as the initially screwed-up Owen, a victim in danger of continuing in an unthinking cycle of violence.  McPhee's Owen wears his heart on his sleeve—he just won't show it on his girlish face—but as the movie progresses, that face starts to beam (he is far more expressive than the Swedish version's Kåre Hedebrant, in fact, both kids in the first have a Teutonic reserve that is appropriate for that film's style, but would seem catatonic in this version) as he approaches his relationship with Abby with the same vulnerable hopefulness he just can't allow in his other interactions.

Reeves does manage to make some things his own, as well.  He mostly discards the firsts glacial blue color palette for a neon orange that suffuses scenes, and he nicely captures a bit of the gender-bending feel of the first, though differently.  Also, he very cleverly stages some of the violent sequences obliquely, thrusting them in the stage-rear of the frame while the main focus is going on in the foreground.  The more human attacks are handled extremely well, surprisingly—alarmingly so, but the movie veers into goofiness whenever more occultish violence occurs.  The director holds on the scenes too long, and even though a lot of it is done in back-lit cameo, the effects make it look like the perp is less a savage beast than a crazed monkey with a banana-buzz.  Sure, there should be some giddy thrill involved in horror, but "giddy" shouldn't translate to guffaws.  He also makes crystal-clear the true horror of the piece, something that only occurred to me, after a bit of time of contemplation—for some reason, I like my "OMG" moments to be outside the theater.  And he gums up the last scene of the film with a too-nostalgic pop reference that negates its effectiveness.

Still, after having dismissed the idea of an American remake with "may it never see the light of day," I have to admit that this one doesn't suck badly.

Let Me In is a Matinee. 

"Paramount Pictures would like to thank the family of the deceased..."

I'm surprised that Matt Reeves wasn't pegged to direct Paranormal Activity 2, considering he pulled the same cinéma vérité trick with his Cloverfield as Oren Peli did with the first PA.  Reeves might have actually done something different, as opposed to this corporate product generated to merely try and tap the success of the first.  Right off the bat, the vibe for this one is different, with the Paramount honchos putting the corporate brand in the very first crawl (which is partially used for the title of this piece)—a subterfuge, anyway, as it is "only a movie" and Paramount Pictures isn't thanking anybody, they're just trying to take your money, while fulfilling their initial wish to re-make the first movie (which was made independently for $11,000) under their corporate umbrella, thus inflating the cost to $2,750,000, while, cluelessly, also hoping to duplicate the original's success.  Guess what, Paramount?  The Paranormal Activity's financial success depended on the negative cost being so damned low.  That won't happen when you're paying gaffers, best boys, painters, assistant directors and assistants to the executive producer (all missing from the original) a sizable wage.*

They also can't duplicate the original's artistic success, either, such as it was.  The first film took a nugget of a good idea and ran with it, employing some audience knowledge of video conceits and, like any good horror-meister, letting the audience do their dirty work, trusting that what the sweating masses in the dark will come up with will be far more horrible than what actually occurs.  A couple of shock-cuts, and you leave them quivering in fear.

But Paranomal Activity 2 really doesn't do anything else than go through the same motions.  Oh, there is more coverage, thanks to an in-home security system that is installed after the initial "things that go crash on vacation" incident.  There is no 80herz hum that accompanies every incident, just some indeterminate sound effects (which are re-capped—and exposed as rather cheap—in the end-credits...End Credits?  That kinda destroys the illusion, too).  And this one is exposed to be more or less a prequel to the original...except that the actors shared by both look quite a bit older this time when the time-frame should be the same. 

It's just one of those moments of bone-headedness on the producers'/director's parts that show all they're interested in is going through the motions and collecting the cash, even if their efforts undercut the basic spookiness of the movie.  It's Corporate movie-making at its dumbest, laziest and most crass.  For example, you can't have a corporate movie release without some product placement (like that recognizable bottle of Sunny Delight in the kitchen, or the dramatically worthless talk about Burger King), which goes somewhat against the grain of a "captured" video source—and gaffe-spotters will have a field-day with this one—at one point, dad cracks a sexual joke by saying "Release the Krakken!" (the line from Clash of the Titans).  That would be funny, if it wasn't a glaring mistake.  That line of Liam Neeson's from the 2010 movie only became a catch-phrase this year...and the movie is supposed to be taking 2006.  Oopsy!

There was no reason, other than plunder, for this movie to be made, and while one can say that the performances are decent, and it delivers enough jolts that you forget that dogs and children are the potential victims here, this is one best not attended.  Bad movies and bad movie franchises should be given the same advice as demon-poltergeists: "Just ignore it and maybe it will go away..."

Paranormal Activity 2 is a Waste of Time.

* Yes, it DOES snow in Los Alamos, New Mexico, and it has nothing to do with a Nuclear Winter.

** One of those Executive Producers is Akiva Goldsman, whose name seems to appear on any movie that sucks.


The Mad Hatter said...

As details of LET ME IN came trickling down throughout its development, I came to a conclusion: It was either gonna be right on the mark, or miss the target entirely.

I'm happy that it was the former.

there's a lot to love about Reeve's vision of the story...if only more people would get out and see it!

(PS - Not sure if you got a chance to listen, but Rachel from Reel Reviews and I did a review of this flick on my most recent podcast).

Chris David Richards said...

Saw the original Paranormal last night. It was good fun. Though I hope they'll at least keep a trilogy if they're going to do more.

Simon said...

The 'release the Krakken' phrase was fairly well-known before the movie. I knew it, anyway.

Let Me In was just as good as the original, but in different ways. It was (ahem) sweeter.

Yojimbo_5 said...

Tetch: The idea of the re-make made me loathe to see it. But you have to walk into every movie without pre-conceptions...I was delighted to see what Reeves did with it, some terrific strategies in this...and can't fault the acting...I even thought the bullies were well-done.

The original IS good fun. It was a terrific idea for a movie. The sequel is crap. Odds are the second sequel will be crappier.

Yes, Si', but you're young and hip; the guy who says it is an oldish Burger King franchiser. And this movie takes place in 2006, not 2010 or even 2009 (when trailers might have come out). Nope, this is sloppy work. Pure and simple-minded.