Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Let Me In - review

(if you haven't seen 'Let The Right One In', this contains mild spoilers)

Last night I saw Let Me In - the feared/anticipated remake of Thomas Alfredson’s majestic Let the Right One In. Alfredson’s original, gentle, understated vampire fable received one of the most rapturous receptions I have seen at any festival, ever – with the exception of Del Toro's Pans Labyrinth – and effectively earned the status of an instant classic. So the ire amongst fans was palpable - and understandable - at the announcement that the new Hammer stable were to immediately remake the film for the US. Predictable grumblings ensued, and I have to admit to feeling a certain level of concern myself – that is until two things happened.

Firstly, I read John Ajvide Lindqvist book which if you haven’t, and you’ve seen the Swedish film, you must remedy immediately. In fact remedy it anyway. It’s a terrific companion piece, a book which works wonderfully well particularly after you’ve seen the film - shedding light on some of the darker material hinted at onscreen. There is a LOT going on in it.

Secondly, Matt Reeves was then confirmed as the director. Now for my money Reeves’ Cloverfield is a near-perfect film, a 70s Spielberg quality, thrill-delivering shaky cam shocker; one of the most audacious, confident and dazzling genre films of the last decade.

The natural thought for me at this juncture, and for many others too I'm sure, was that perhaps Reeves might go back to the book and take a very different approach. There’s no way he would just remake the understated original in a US setting, surely?

Well the strange thing is that Reeves has pretty much done exactly that, but the result is so impressive that I left the cinema both surprised and affected in equal measure. My companions were not so convinced. I’m not quite sure why I feel this way, and why I didn’t share their disappointment but the answer lies, I think, in the ‘small stuff‘. Reeves’ film makes tiny tweaks and modifications, some work, some don’t. It’s like a fantastically realised cover version that sounds almost the same but is a testament to how tiny alterations can affect remarkable changes in a film’s emotional register.

Reeves' film sticks very, very closely to the original, surprisingly filtering the narrative even further and distilling it down to it’s core essence – the heartbreaking relationship between a bullied, lonely young boy; Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee) and a damaged, mysterious monstrous 'girl'; Abby (ChloĆ« Grace Moretz).

Effectively this decision marginalises the presence of Abby’s 'father' ('Hakan' in the book); a man for whom the term 'special relationship' barely scratches the surface - and effectively jettisons the darker subtext of their bond (explored in hideous depth in the novel).

Where Reeves has modified, the changes are ingenious and the re-routing from Sweden to Los Alamos, New Mexico in 1983 is a complete masterstroke. The roots of trickle-down economic disharmony are being sown and this political context is handled lightly, neither heavy handed or forced. The poverty and social collapse of Stockholm from Alfredson's film is replaced with an America teetering into a darker age of its own; Reagan is in full ‘evil empire’ mode, warning on the television of communist threat and there are various nods to the ‘satanic panic‘ that engulfed early 80s America (which also forms the basis of Ti West’s brilliant recent House of the Devil). The atmosphere of doom and moral panic is extremely persuasive.

I’m not sure the additional police procedural elements really add much to the film, but it's always a pleasure to see Elias Koteas who plays the investigator here. It's easy to forget what a fine actor he is, and he’s on good form - barely recognisable under a large moustache and what appear to be Stanley Tucci's paedo-for-hire clothes from The Lovely Bones.

Richard Jenkins (from Six Feet Under) essays the 'father' very effectively but the characters presence is reduced. His brief moments linger in the memory though and when he is onscreen with Moretz he makes an impact so strong you miss him when he’s not around.

There’s no doubt that Let Me In loses its nerve a little mid-way, and it's hard to shake off the deja vu if you've seen the first (particularly as there's only a couple of years between them!). Reeves does frame the scenes very differently though, favouring overwhelming close ups to the original's medium to long shots. There’s a little bit of dubious CGI here and there too and Abby's cat-like movements are rendered oddly and artificially, bringing you out of the film.
It's also an unfortunate fact that the original had one of the greatest set pieces in any horror film of living memory and Reeves, good as he is, simply cannot top or even match it. That said he throws in one stunning sequence of his own, worthy of Carpenter at his prime – a taut, agonising moment - where Jenkins lies waiting to strike in the back of a car - which goes horribly wrong and ends in a wrenching, point of view car smash. It's quite outstanding. Both children incidentally are wonderful, and Michael Giacchino's score is simply sublime, resonant, poignant and spooky in turns.

Look, not every one is going to go for this. For some the film just won’t be different enough, for others even the fact that the original was so quickly remade will stick in the craw. For me, personally, I'm often a big fan of remakes. I even like Van Sant’s derided shot-for-shot Psycho facsimile and contributed to this spirited top ten horror remakes list, in which I would be happy to include Let Me in.

The fact is that the original exists, the book exists and now so does this - a delicate film of quiet grace and longing, an impressively rendered cover. If it doesn’t quite have the freshness and piquancy of the original it’s still a film of great integrity, a very impressive start for the re-energised Hammer stable and further confirmation that Matt Reeves is a director of genuine skill.

And if it compliments an original work that not nearly enough people have seen and serves as a way of letting them in on a modern classic - that can only be a good thing.

RIP Arthur Penn

Friday, 17 September 2010

More shameless self promotion

I am now writing for the lovely Chris and Phil presents site

Looking forward to doing more for these good fellows...

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Gone but not forgotten: Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains!

So The Runaways is out.

I'm really looking forward to seeing it, and Stewart and Fanning definitely look the part, but can it in all seriousness be as good as THIS?

Starring a 15 year old Diane Lane (before her 80s Outsiders/Rumblefish/Cotton Club Coppola triple-whammy) this is a terrifically grotty, obscurist little number just ripe for Runaway-influenced rediscovery.

Made in 1981, it’s a pretty canny distillation of the transient nature of the punk-pop game, which is understandable given its director Lou Adler was a noted music producer and entrepreneur. Despite years of success in the industry he couldn’t save his own flick from sinking into almost complete obscurity immediately, but its memory has been fondly kept alive by cult aficionados over the years and it often bubbles up to the surface on various occasions when the zeitgeist chimes with its ramshackle tale of girl rockers in a rock n' roll rut. It was a bit of a riot grrl touchstone if I remember correctly.

WEIRD cast too, with a very young Ray Winstone, even younger Laura Dern, some of the Pistols and other assorted hangers on. Legit copies are nigh-impossible to find, but mark my words this will be out on a cheapo DVD spec edition by the time Joan and the gang hit DVD.

Good thing too.

Friday, 3 September 2010

FrightFest: Cherry Tree Lane

The interesting career journey of director Paul Andrew Williams and producer Ken Marshall continues with this uncomfortable to watch, occasionally brilliant home invasion film. A deliberately divisive work, it elicited accusations of Daily Mail-pandering from some audience members - the kind I last heard levelled at the near-perfect, more ruthlessly exploitative Eden Lake. Cherry Tree Lane is far less feverish than Lake, and even allows for some deadpan humour to seep through the grimness. And while its closest antecedent is Michael Haneke’s excellent Funny Games it doesn’t have any of the snooty audience game-playing elements of that film.

My fear when I initially heard about this film was that it would lean very heavily on the Haneke model, but Williams does some interesting things with form and tone, and it doesn’t feel like he’s holding up any mirrors to the audience - instead he’s inviting them right in, up close, to feel the discomfort, peril and outright terror of the situation. The set-up is ruthless, lean and economical - a young gang force their way into a middle class couple’s home, hold the pair hostage and assault them, while awaiting the return of the couple’s wayward son, for whom they have a major grievance, and terrible revenge to exact upon. Although it’s a very different work, this has an intensity and control that harks back to the pair’s first collaboration, London to Brighton.

And again he coaxes some real standout performances from a mostly unknown young cast - I was particularly blown away by the quiet authority of Ashley Chin as Asad, who delivers a nuanced, layered portrayal of disaffected, disconnected young man.

Williams’ confidence as a filmmaker is clearly growing and although some of the hypnotic atmosphere that is built in the opening thirty minutes (aided by an excellent UNKLE score) starts to ebb away slightly when the gang invite some additional, younger members over to the house, a frenzied and intense finale gets things back on track.

We might not like or feel at all comfortable with another film that uses white class-panic about feral youth as its basis, but while this contemporary fear continues to be ruthlessly exploited by tabloids and news organisations, it remains a subject worthy of exploration. Williams' film might not change any existing attitudes, but it stands up to the best examples of the genre, while forging an identity of its own.