Dir. Matt Reeves
. USA. 2010.

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Matt Reeves who gave the world 'Cloverfield' returns with the first movie from the rebranded British production arm, Hammer Films.  Reeves adapts for the screen and directs a remake of the Swedish  best-selling novel 'Lat den Ratte Komma' by John Ajvide Lindqvist, who wrote the screenplay for 'Let the Right One In', a critically lauded film around the world. That film updated or refreshed the tired looking vampire film, and is seen as the alternative vampire film compared to the commercial juggernaut that is the 'Twilight' saga.

Reeves, rather than go for a shot-for-shot rip off or destroy what made the original so successful, instead is proud to admit the debt and admiration of the first film.  Perhaps knowing that little or no of the American demographic neither saw nor heard of the original, he intends to keep the best bits, use them to their potential and then cast a critical American eye over proceedings.  Reeves first twist is to place the action in the mid 1980s using a classic soundtrack (Culture Club, UB40), arcade games such as Pac-Man and television footage of Ronald Reagan as cultural and historical indicators for the audience, combined with a chilling score by Michael Giacchino, the film is allowed to have a distinct sound and diegetic quality. Transporting the action to a wintry New Mexico in the grip of a killing spree allows Reeves to shoot the action in a cold pale palette, treating the location as much as a character as the two young leads, Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee) and Abby (Chloe Moretz), who are as white as the climate.

Owen lives with his mother, an unsavoury recovering alchoholic, who we hardly see face on (in essence making her a cartoon character).  Owen is bullied at school by those who persist in wanting to see his genitalia, such homophobic teasing and calling him 'girl' can be just as horrific for a young man to endure.  The film incorporates swimming into the plot much like the original, Owen does not participate in swimming owing to a reluctance to show bruises on his backs, here Reeves alludes to the fact that maybe Owen's mother beats him also.  Reeves shows that American directors do not have to tell the audience everything.

Next door to Owen, a young girl, Abby,  moves in with her 'father'. Upon their first meeting, she tells Owen they cannot be friends.  But Owen is continually drawn to Abby, likewise Abby who recalls old flames and the kinship between the two is clearly apparent.  Moretz (Hit Girl in 'Kick-Ass') combines genuine innocence with the darkness of the vampire - making the vampire a child you have this uneasy balance of child and adult in one person.  Abby grows protective of Owen and helps him overcome the bullies, in a climatic swimming pool scene.

On Abby's trail is a detective played doggedly by Elias Koteas, who is on the track of a serial killer - always a serial killer when there is a vampire in town - or the belief that there is a serial killer at work.  Following the father's (Richard Jenkins) failed attempts at gaining blood for Abby, he sacrifices himself for her bloodlust and for a moment this is where the film slows up somewhat.  The film flirts with the idea that maybe Abby will be captured but once the trail is sidelined and becomes a dead end for the detective, only then are the bullies dealt with.  At the end, the inclusion of morse code as a means of communication between the pair is reminded of from earlier as the sun rises on their new life together.

Credit must go to Moretz for giving a performance of chilling composure, being a poster child for the troubled years of adolescence, and supporting McPhee with his humdrum role of the tormented Owen.   Reeves also deserves praise for taking a recognised successful foreign film and being able to give it an American voice without dumbing down the gore and horror for horror fans, and elevating the rite of passage of Owen's adolescence.  Vampire aficionados may be surprised that there is a frightening horror film available here, and hammer horror fans will be surprised to find a very good film on offer.  The inability to clearly generalise the genre of the picture is for once not a drawback to a film.

Released by Icon Home Entertainment on 14 March 2011 for £15.99RRP, the DVD and Blu-Ray disc extras include an audio commentary with director Matt Reeves, a 'Making of' documentary, the art of special effects, the car crash sequence step-by-step and deleted scenes.
Jamie Garwood

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