Monday, August 15, 2011

Who let the monsters in?

Back when I wrote about Let The Right One In, the Swedish vampire movie, I noted that it had an American remake, called Let Me In (2010). The good news is that the story has not been Spielbergified or otherwise translated into standard Hollywood tropes. The director found a cold and isolated analogue to the claustrophobic Nordic winter of the original. A few things are done better, a few done not so well. My favorite scares seemed to be not quite as good, due to changes in camera placement and cutting, but it may be that since I knew they were coming, I was inured to their shock value. (Specifically, they are the hospital facade scene and the final encounter in the pool.)

The film makes good use of CGI, especially in one sequence in which the protagonist retaliates on some bullies. In the past, such a sequence would have to use misdirection, clever staging and tricky editing to cover up the necessity of not actually injuring one's actors. Now CGI permits such a scene of personal violence to be handled in a straightforward fashion.

On the other hand, director Matt Reeves, the near-genius responsible for Cloverfield demonstrates a Spielbergian flair for a bravura sequence of everyday terror, namely a car crash, using a spectacular mix of real footage, green screen, CGI and composites thereof. Here it is:

And here's a "making of" sequence that explains how it was done:

The best news is that both films are currently available on Netflix Streaming, so you can do a side-by-side comparison. There are many worse ways to spend an evening.

My biggest misgiving about the remake is the title, which, coupled with the poster art, suggests words spoken by a potential victim, rather than the words of the vampire, who, according to standard lore, must be invited into a room.

But that somewhat misleading title puts me in mind of the only entirely worthwhile sequence in the lesser Val Lewton film, The Leopard Man (1943). The film shoots itself in the foot, horror-wise when it introduces the title leopard in the first sequence in such a way as to be no scarier than "Baby" in Bringing Up Baby. Then it meanders around with a dull detective plot for a long time.

The sterling exception is this sequence in which a young girl is sent out on a simple errand by her mother. It has been set up that she is rather fanciful and her mother rather impatient. This Youtube poster has put a number of shots together which in the film are distributed over a longer sequence, but it is useful to see this thread isolated from the other parts of the film. The climax in this clip, consisting of offscreen action, ranks among the top five fright sequences in the history of film, at least to me. As usual, the unseen horror is worse than anything that a filmmaker can picture. If you are seriously interested in film, you owe it to yourself to watch this:

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