LET ME IN
With apologies to those firmly on either Team Edward or Team Jacob, I was, until recently, convinced that the best vampire movie of the past 10 years was director Tomas Alfredson's Let the Right One In, the widely acclaimed, beautiful, and very scary Swedish thriller from 2008. But after seeing director Matt Reeves' new remake, Let Me In, I'm thinking that - Heresey Alert! - this one just might trump it.
Like its inspiration, Reeves' moody, atmospheric horror outing concerns the tentative friendship and eventual deep bond between a damaged, bullied pre-teen (played here by Kodi Smit-McPhee) and his mysterious new neighbor (Chloë Grace Mortez), who, as she explains, has been "12 for a very long time." It's basically your timeless boy-meets-vampire tale, and Alfredson's version of the story - based on John Ajvide Lindqvist's novel - was an elegant, suggestive, and disturbing elegy for lost youth, filled with memorable imagery, and boasting several nightmarish shocks. (The climactic scene set at the indoor swimming pool is already a scare-flick classic, and for really good reason.) Yet for all of its formal brilliance, Let the Right One In also displayed a neutrality and chilly remoteness that, for me, never quite jibed with its should've-been-wrenching tale of two lonely souls who form an unlikely alliance. I loved watching the movie, but I didn't necessarily feel anything toward it.
Thanks, however, to the moving, invested, and wholly believable performances of Smit-McPhee, Moretz, and the ever-wondrous Richard Jenkins (portraying the vampire's caretaker), I barely recall a moment in which I wasn't wholly, emotionally invested in Let Me In. (Maybe when the character in the hospital room burst into flames, because phony-looking CGI fire effects always pull me out of the moment.) Treating the original with a due reverence that never slides into solemnity, Reeves replicates many of Let the Right One In's most treasured shots - the vampire's slow crawl up the hospital's exterior is, again, the best of the bunch - and provides some utterly thrilling inventions of his own; Jenkins' abrupt gas-station escape, with his victim's car tumbling (in an unbroken take) into a ditch, is an especially bravura piece of filmmaking. But Let Me In is more than frightening; it's haunting, and it's haunting precisely because the bond between its young protagonists is so palpable.
There are sickening shocks and strong, fast jolts here, and the movie boasts an unwavering air of menace. When Smit-McPhee and Moretz are on-screen, though, you briefly forget about all the horror-film tropes and concentrate instead on the heartbreaking sadness at the core of the story; these two possess such gravity and depth of feeling that you almost think the actors have been 12 for a very long time. (Depending on the shot, the prodigiously gifted Moretz can look either 10 or 25, and Smit-McPhee displays a preternaturally adult grasp of acting throughout, particularly in the horrific scenes that find his ostracized Owen practicing death threats in front of a mirror.) With Reeves guiding his leads to truly amazing performances, Let Me In has an emotional pull to match its scares and visual panache, and ends up being something all-to-rare for the genre: a vampire movie in which you're convinced - pardon the awful pun - that something truly is at stake.
One of Renée Zellweger's earliest film roles, and one of her most notorious, was in 1994's The Return of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Could anyone have predicted that after stardom, a bunch of acclaimed, high-profile releases, and an Academy Award, she'd be headlining in dopey horror tripe again so quickly? In Case 39, the actress plays a sweet-natured social worker who becomes foster mother to a literal child from hell (Jodelle Ferland), and there's really nothing here you haven't seen in other Bad Seed knockoffs of its type; it just gets there a lot more slowly than usual. (Nearly half of Case 39's 105-minute running length passes before we launch into the plot that presumably got audiences in the auditorium in the first place.) As movies of this sort go, director Christian Alvart's outing isn't awful; there are sturdy performances by Ian McShane and Adrian Lester, an unsettling attempted murder in an oven, and, before it turns ridiculous, a fine, creepy scene involving Bradley Cooper and a crazy number of hornets. (Cooper is fourth-billed in this long-shelved release - filming was completed way back in 2006 - but fans will be delighted to know that while his character does die early, he at least has the good sense to die shirtless.) Yet Case 39 is still a mostly dull, pokey effort, awkwardly staged and edited, and filled with incongruous flips in character and tone. Its only real point of interest, in truth, comes from it being the second movie in four weeks (after Devil) to feature a sequence in which a demon is trapped in a stalled elevator. And friends wonder why I insist on always taking the stairs.
In the staggeringly stupid, amateurish gore-fest Chain Letter, a bunch of idiot teens are knocked off, one after the other, for refusing to forward the e-mailed missive of the title. (No, the killer isn't a deposed ruler of Venezuela needing a quick $2,000, but rather a hulking, tattooed brute whose leather mask and chains suggest S&M night at Studio 54.) Young audiences married to their cell phones might be tickled - if, that is, they can look up from their cell phones long enough - but you can really get the same effect just by closing your eyes and re-imagining any of the umpteen releases in the Saw franchise. The camera zooms and sprins, viscera is spewed, and it all ends with one of those torture-porn rehashes of every single previous scene in the movie, culminating in an "a-ha!" moment that means absolutely nothing. It's all as tired and scare-free as you'd expect, and among a cast that includes such actual talents as Nikki Reed, Keith David, and Brad Dourif, the only one of Chain Letter's credited performers to emerge with dignity intact is Ling Bai. She was apparently edited out of the movie.