Category Archives: A

Review: The Devil's Candy

Director(s)Sean Byrne
Principal CastEthan Embry as Jesse Hellman
Kiara Glasco as Zooey Hellman
Pruitt Taylor Vince as Ray Smilie
Shiri Appleby as Astrid Hellman
Release Date 2015
Language(s)English
Running Time79 minutes

Despite being only 79 minutes, Sean Byrne’s sophomore feature feels more cohesive and put together than most horror releases out there. The story follows the Hellman family who move at the behest of their patriarch, Jesse, a struggling painter trying to help his family’s financial situation. However, their new house is filled with a few surprises of its own and Jesse finds himself possessed by his work once the movie is done. His paintings go from cute butterflies to horrific hellscapes and he becomes completely lost in his art, unable to process how long he’s been at the canvas. As he struggles to balance his work with his family he finds out that there’s also a potential killer on the loose and is forced to navigate increasingly more worrisome situations.

I love the family dynamic between the Hellman’s. It comes off as authentic and textured and you can tell exactly how each member operates in relation to the others. Both Jesse and his daughter, Zooey are charmed metal-heads while his wife (and primary source of family finances), Astrid, prefers more calming music. Watching Jesse and Zooey interact with other is heartwarming. It helps that Glasco and Embry play so well off each other. The latter comes off as a doting father, trying to find balance between his work life, duties to the family, and sense of artistic integrity. The former comes off as a playful kid, innocent to the harsh realities of the world but not stupid. When things start going wrong, the family dynamic is tested in ways that are both viscerally satisfying and thematically resonant. No dispute ever feels forced for the sake of generating conflict. It helps keep the movie feeling like a tight-knit package.

At the heart of the movie is a discussion of art, its inspirations, and the maddening way it can consume us if we let it. I love how it’s juxtaposed to highlight its destructive capacity- both in how certain forms of art can be destructive, but also in that the pursuit of artistic excellence can leave one unable to fulfill their other duties, thereby destroying a subjects state of balance. Art can be conscious, but at some level flows from a libidinal well that subsumes every other aspect of action. If we’re not careful, we can lose ourselves in it.

The camera always has a purpose and I was surprised at how effectively Byrne uses it to convey different themes. For example, there’s a move in montage scene early on where each member of the family is moving boxes around. There are no “cuts” and the camera stays stationary as people fade in and out. However, when the sequence is done, a character moves towards the “camera’s” position, and it’s actually a photo of the family. It’s a neat moment that shows the family is an series of interconnected entities that makes up one whole.

Edits and inter-cuts between related scenes are used to create these awesome visual connections between different elements that give moments much darker undertones. It helps that the movie utilizes tons of beautiful symmetric shots with saturated colors that just pop out of the screen, almost screaming at you to pay attention. The darker more disturbing images are hard to get out of your head and I have to praise the art direction for being so macabre and ghoulish. It’s unnerving and gives the movie a unique flair.

My only big problem with the movie is the very end, which feels simultaneously tacked on but poetically beautiful in a way. It kind of comes out of nowhere, but I enjoyed it in how it ties certain thematic threads up. I do think if the movie had spent maybe 10 more minutes just building up the elements to the final sequence it would have been amazing, but the way it’s done right now feels like an incomplete thought tacked to an otherwise finely-tuned movie.

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TLDRThe Devil’s Candy manages to blend family drama with intriguing scares and a narrative that’ll have you questioning what’s going on. Though the third act fumbles in some places, there’s more than enough visual flair and subtext to make up for it.
Rating9.2/10
Grade A

Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!

Review: The Untamed

Director(s)Amat Escalante
Principal CastRuth Ramos as Alejandra
Simone Bucio as Veronica
Jesus Meza as Angel
Eden Villavicencio as Fabian
Release Date2016
Language(s)Spanish
Running Time 100 minutes

The Untamed is a thought provoking story about the depths of sexuality and the way that humans have codified and defined themselves in relations to those articulations creating a disconnect between ourselves and our inner most desires. The story plays out like a well thought out Mexican drama featuring staples of the genre: secrets, the stratification of sexuality and gender, violence, inner turmoil; but adds in a extraterrestrial tentacle sex creature for good measure, giving the movie an element of visual horror and making the themes go to the next level. If you ever thought The Shape of Water needed to be creepier and more unnerving instead of romantic, this is the movie for you.

The first scene in the movie depicts Veronica, a young women, who’s in the middle of orgasming due to her alien counterpart. The creature ends up injuring her, and two elder individuals who own the farm where the creature crash landed, ask Veronica to cease relations with it . Suffering from a new wound, she finds herself at a hospital, being treated kindly by a nurse, who she slowly befriends. Meanwhile, in another part of the city Alejandra, the film’s protagonist, deals with her unhappy domestic life. Her husband, Angel (ironic I know) uses her for sexual gratification but is rarely there for her. As the two groups’ stories interconnect, what follows is a sexual journey that’s harrowing, impossible to look away from, and deeply unsettling.

The movie deals with our relations to sex and sexuality. Every character’s orientation and reasons for wanting sex are coded differently. Watching those interactions play out with the sex monster in the background creates an interesting discussion on the place of sexuality and the way it’s deployed and internalized by rational agents. There are constantly scenes that juxtapose humans with animals to highlight the differences in how each group approaches their more base desires. Add in the ideas and themes of a well-rounded drama on top of that, and suddenly you have a piece that’s teeming with nuanced discussions. This is one of the most thought provoking movies I’ve seen on sex and sexuality in a long time.

That being said, the movie never exploits it’s premise to create fantasy sex sequences for the audience. Escalante is focused on the element of sexuality, not the visual depiction and subsequently goes to great efforts to show only glimpses of the creature and sexual actions. The camera slowly moves throughout important scenes, without revealing the shocking event at play until the very end. This is visual storytelling done right. Scenes and the way they’re shot and edited lead you to certain conclusions which are subverted in a way to make you sympathize with the characters and make future decisions more shocking.

The creature is rarely ever shown, except in tidbits and pieces, so its eventual reveal is well earned and horrifying. This is a creature feature done right, and I genuinely couldn’t avert my gaze when it’s full visage came onto screen. This process of slow reveals, building tension, and letting it all explode in one final reveal feels like the process of foreplay and sexual gratification, so the entire experience feels sublime and thematically resonant.

My biggest issue with the movie is a sub-plot involving some less involved characters that never plays out as much as I wanted it too. I like how they’re incorporated thematically, but I wish they made more sense from a story perspective, because they’re the only real aspects of the movie (sans the sex alien) that aren’t grounded. There are also a few moments where characters talk a bit too much , making some of the underlying ideas a bit more heavy-handed. I love how subtle the storytelling is, so these moments bothered me more than they would most other people.

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TLDRThe Untamed combines a well-executed and thought out drama with a creature feature involving an sex alien with tentacles. It’s well paced, prefers to show rather than tell, and presents one of most interesting discourses on sex/sexuality that I’ve seen in recent years. The movie prioritizes atmosphere and mood over visceral images and jump scares, so if you like the latter you may find yourself bored by this.
Rating9.3/10
Grade A

Review: Flesh of the Void

Director(s)James Quinn
Principal CastMan Without a Face as Priest
Kmsura as The Amputee
Dead Flesh as Rapist
Elektriking as Man in Gas Mask
Release Date2017
Language(s)English
Running Time 77 minutes

What is death? Is it the end of the spirit or does it just mark the end of the physical body? People have always taken comfort in the idea that death is either a void bereft of any sensation or that there’s some kind of afterlife. This highly experimental movie throws those answers out and instead looks at death as the worst, most horrifying, event. Instead of a void, instead of heaven or hell, this a journey into death in its most intimate and horrifying, the end of physical existence and the sensation of the flesh.

There’s not a real plot. There are no real characters. If I’ve lost you already, then you know this movie isn’t for you. This is an experience through the most miserable depths of the human experience and isn’t something that should be touched by the faint of heart. Forget NSFW, there are NSFL scenes in here that haven’t left my head since I saw I first saw this movie. The black and white movie is an assault on the senses and doesn’t care about answering questions or making you feel secure. It only wants to hurt you. It wants to make you despair and break under its torrent of visceral depravity.

The words that come onto the screen are scratched and sharp, like the text in the movie poster above. It cuts into the screen and feels violent, like the movie is being effaced. Quinn uses expired Super 8, modern super 8 , and 16 mm film to capture a variety of different visual effects. Most of the movie is gritty and indecipherable. The horrors come at you in droves. Sometimes they’re blurry, barely at the periphery, showing you just enough to stir your mind into finishing the idea and image at play. Other times, horrifying actions are shown on screen in disturbing long takes that seemingly never end. When the old super 8 film comes into play, the movie takes on a whole new surreal feeling, bombarding the senses and really getting underneath the skin. Most dialogue happens in the form of interspersed poetry, barely heard, and distinctly sinister in tone. Indecipherable noises, and short growls crowd the soundscape and haunting music makes you feel like you’ll never feel safe again.

The movie veers on the line of overly pretentious and deeply meaningful and I could definitely see arguments for the former. I was deeply affected by the piece, and think it’s a horrifying trip for anyone that wants to explore the depravity of humanity, but can see how it can feel like meaningless torture porn to some people. If I didn’t see the advertising/marketing for the movie that told me it was supposed to be an experience of death, I might have been frustrated, but I knew what I was getting into. This is not a movie for everyone, but I think people with a taste for it will find themselves haunted by this piece for sleepless nights to come.

That being said, I think the path to the journey could be heavily improved. I get wanting to be ambiguous and unnerving, but the lack of subtitles makes it almost impossible to make out certain bits of dialogue. It’s a strange complaint and I wouldn’t fault for you think it’s nitpicking, but the movie is hard enough to find and is all about the meaning created through the experience, so being able to know the words is important. I found myself more distracted by trying to parse what was happening, but ignoring the words and just being scared by their recitation didn’t work for me that well.

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TLDRFlesh of the Void is a movie for people that want to know what death as the ultimate horror would feel like. This piece is highly experimental and explores the most miserable depths of human existence, constantly bombarding the audience with unnerving noises and dialogue combined with surreal and disturbing imagery.
Rating9/10
Grade A

Review: High Life

Director(s)Claire Denis
Principal CastRobert Pattinson as Monte
Juliette Binoche as Dibs
Mia Goth as Boyse
Jessie Ross as Willow
Release Date2018
Language(s)English
Running Time 110 minutes

This slow, non-linearly told, atmospheric ride into space is a one of a kind look into the human condition. Denis is not focused on spectacle or sci-fi hi jinks. Instead, she uses space as an tool to alienate our protagonists, trying to isolate and draw apart the elements that we commonly associate with being a human. The movie is really hard to talk about without some spoilers, so be warned. I won’t talk about anything that isn’t revealed within the first few scenes in the movie, so don’t worry. Nothing important, just enough to help explain the stuff I liked and didn’t. The movie also depicts some fairly dark stuff. If rape/assault bother you, watch with someone who can tell you when those scenes stop.

The story opens up on Monte, a man who’s apparently in charge of taking care of a baby, Willow, on a seemingly empty spacecraft. From there it cuts to Monte in the past, as part of a crew sent to explore black holes. The catch? Each member of the crew is a criminal who’s participating in the mission in lieu of sentencing. Denis isn’t as concerned with keeping up the mystery as some major questions are answered fairly early. The focus of the movie instead is on the human body and the way it responds to different stimuli.

As part of their sentence, the crew members are not allowed to masturbate or have sex. Instead, they must relieve themselves in a sex box, a mysterious object filled with sexual paraphernalia that bring subjects to orgasm and relieves them of their relevant fluids. The scenes involving it are disturbing in how they make sex mechanic and programmable. By stripping such an intimate action of its human element, the story asks us if humanity really has any meaning outside of the composition and arrangement of our organs. Are we just our genitalia, our sweat glands, our eyes, our mouths, etc working together like a biologically pre-programmed machine, unable to do anything worthwhile in this universe or are we creatures that can impact the universe in a way that creates meaning? Are we held back by traditional rules of thinking about ourselves and others or are they the things that keep us grounded and capable of doing anything at all? I won’t spoil the film’s answer (mainly because I think it varies based on how you take the story), but I think the journey it takes to get there is interesting.

I think this is a movie that’ll only continue to grow on me and I’m sure I’m missing a lot of ideas. The movie almost plays like a microcosm of Earth, with a population of radically different individuals trying to work with each other under a draconian set of rules (plug in whatever social system you want; ex: patriarchy, capitalism, prison industrial system) and their subsequent responses to alienation within that system. The way the movie is shot, edited, and presented allow you to to tinker around with different ideas and I think different people can walk away with different meanings.

The movie is gorgeous in its visuals and presentations. There are scenes that genuinely had me feeling upset and wouldn’t leave my head for a while. There’s not too much visceral violence outside of a few assault sequences, but they’re not the focus of the horror. The real scares come the eerie set up and poignant imagery. Blood splattered walls, objects floating outside of the spacecraft, and the beautiful image of a black hole (that shockingly looks like the recently discovered image by the Event Horizon Telescope team) should keep visual audience members enthralled. Despite taking place on a spacecraft, the movie is teeming with colors. Clever use of flashbacks, ship mechanisms, and lighting choices keep each shot feeling distinct and picturesque. There are scenes in the latter half of the movie that are absolutely stunning to watch and should be seen by any fan of the science-fiction genre. In fact, the movie’s presentation of gravity, orbit, black holes, and other phenomena are exquisite and are beautiful to watch play out. It’s a physics marvel.

The lead performances are also great. Pattinson is impressive as Monte. He’s calm and collected and the way he grows along with Willow is remarkable to see. His nickname on the ship is “monk” and he really exudes that aura, staying strong in will and action. The way he’s contrasted with his crew mates makes him all the more interesting and makes his backstory that much more relevant, both from a character arc and thematic view. Binoche does a great job as the lead scientist, Dibs. She’s in charge of collecting the fluids from the crew members and is responsible for ensuring that sexual urges are gratified via the machine. It’s disturbing to watch her ideas come into play, and her fervent obsession in getting what she wants keeps your eyes glued to her whenever she shows up on screen.

Most of my issues come from the way the story is under utilized. There’s a major plot thread that ends up being ignored (in a literal sense) that’s never explained. It makes the entirety of the story’s setup confusing and I wish that it was addressed again at some point. The movie also dumps a lot of exposition, in spite of its excellent use of visual storytelling. These moments fell really out of place and make the movie flow strangely. When the editing is otherwise so crisp, these sequences end up standing out even more. I would rather have just been shown more beautiful images hinting at what happened like what the rest of the movie ended up doing. A lot of these decisions could be argued to be done for the sake of distilling themes at play, but they come off feeling like missed opportunities instead of lean cuts.

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TLDRHigh Life is a beautiful look into the human condition and our respective place in the universe. It’s slow and methodical, told in non-linear order, and prioritizes eerie atmospheric existential horror over visceral jump scares. If that sounds like something you’d like I highly recommend checking this out. It’s definitely something I plan on checking out again.
Rating9.2/10
GradeA

Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!

 

Review: Unsane

Director(s)Steven Soderbergh
Principal CastClaire Foy as Sawyer Valentini
Joshua Leonard as David
Jay Pharoah as Nate
Amy Irving as Angelina Valentini
Juno Temple as Violet
Release Date 2018
Language(s)English
Running Time98 minutes

This is a movie that deserves to be talked about in the same vein as Get Out when it comes to well done social-commentary horror movies. While Peele’s debut dealt with race, Soderbergh’s story tackles the mental health industry, the #MeToo movement, incel culture, and the effects of a society that amps up paranoia while blaming you for feeling scared. Watching these themes intersect is what makes the movie so distinct and memorable.

The story follows Sawyer Valenti, a women trying to get her life back on track after a harrowing series of run-ins with a serial stalker. After she’s committed to a mental facility, she finds herself trying to find a way out and to deal with the possibility that her stalker is in the institution with her. Soderbergh does a great job at portraying the horrors of being a women in the world. Sawyer deals with snide remarks at the workplace, lack of respect during cordial interactions, constant gaslighting, and a severe lack of respect. She’s simultaneously taught to handle situations with a certain fear and sense of uneasiness and is disrespected for those qualities. It’s frustrating to watch her constantly undermined and thwarted by a system that seems to make it impossible for her to ever win.

What makes the story so much more interesting is the presence of well-rounded and interesting side characters. Angelina is Sawyer’s fierce mother and is on her daughter’s side, trying to help her out. Nate is a resourceful and interesting kind-of friend on the side. Watching him interact with and teach Sawyer the rules of the land is fun, and their burgeoning friendship is pulled off convincingly. The other patients at the facility are handled with respect. This isn’t a mental patients scary movie. In fact, the movie actively argues the opposite. It’s clear that Soderbergh thinks that the mental health industry is almost irredeemable and actively serves to trap everyday people in a system to suck them dry of their money. The patients reflect this. They’re all “off” but they’re not crazy. They’re social, have codes of conduct, and want to interact.

Every major performance is also great. Foy understands the motivations that drive her character and makes her sometimes questionable actions feel believable. The fear, the desperation, the indignation, the sheer lack of energy at having to deal with any more nonsense. You can feel her emotions through the way she moves her body across the screen. Pharoah is amazing in his side role and adds a lot of levity to the otherwise tense movie. He plays well off Foy and the scenes they have talking to each other are among my favorite as a result.

So if you haven’t heard already, this movie was shot exclusively on an iPhone 7 Plus. Soderbergh has talked a lot about how he’s astounded with the results of the movie. I went in to the movie because I heard it was only shot on a cell phone and I was curious at how it’d turn out. I think Soderbergh’s experiment proved mixed results. There are a lot of great shots and sequences, but they never feel as powerful as they should because the iPhone can’t capture the light at all. There’s very little contrast in dark scenes, so you almost start praying for more stuff to occur in the light, just so you know for sure what’s happening. The movie looks a lot more grimy and worn out. I personally liked it, because I thought it fight with the movie and psyche of the characters but if you want something that looks clean, look elsewhere. I didn’t think the movie looked bad per say. I just think that this movie deserved better because of how good the story and characters are.

Plot wise, I don’t share a lot of the same criticisms I’ve seen a lot of other reviews bring up. I think a lot of the sequences in the movie are justified or are done for very distinctive purposes. That being said, there’s only two plot elements that comes up in the third act that feel a bit too absurd. I thought the movie was going to be more nuanced/ambiguous with one of these ideas and it isn’t which made me pretty sad. It’s not that the movie is bad , but it feels like what could’ve been a genuine horror masterpiece is only pretty good instead. However, I can honestly say watching this inspired me. If something this great can be made with an iPhone camera, then there’s only room for improvement. Any of us can make a movie, and I applaud a bigger director for doing this. (Yes I know Tangerine exists. I watched it later and I highly recommend it for people who want to see the true places the medium can go).

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TLDRUnsane is a horror movie about the everyday scenarios women have to go through and does a great job at fairly demonstrating that struggle. The film’s nuanced takes on incel culture, #MeToo tenets, and the mental health industry make it one of the most interesting movies of recent times. Thought it stumbles in some places, I can’t help but appreciate the effort.

The movie being shot on an iPhone 7 may upset some people. The movie is grainy and lighting isn’t that great, but you won’t notice as much when you’re lost in the story.
Rating9.1/10
Grade A

I have a more in depth piece about this coming soon, so check back later for a spoiler discussion.

Review: It

Director(s)Andy Muschietti
Principal CastBill Skarsgard as It/Pennywise
Jaeden Lieberher as Bill
Sophia Lillis as Beverly
Jeremy Ray Taylor as Ben
Finn Wolfhard as Richie
Jack Dylan Grazer as Eddie
Wyatt Oleff as Stanley
Chosen Jacobs as Mike
Nicholas Hamilton as Henry
Release Date2017
Language(s)English
Running Time 135 minutes

A GOOD horror movie I could go see with my friends. That’s the sentiment I’d use to best describe my relation to It. After a few years without a solid mainstream hit like The Conjuring and Insidious , I was worried I’d never get to see a horror movie with my friends again. If you’ve read my reviews you know I have a taste for weird art-house movies. It’s a sentiment my friends usually don’t share, so most of my horror experiences are solo adventures. Whenever a horror movie is good and lends itself to being accepted by a wider audience, I take notice. It is exactly that kind of movie. This adaptation of King’s highly regarded novel blends genuine horror with an interesting one of a kind story to great effect. The movie simultaneously vivid for enough for fans who like more visual scares, but has enough subtext to keep the annoying self-proclaimed cinephile friend you have (like me) occupied.

The story follows the Losers club, a group of 7 kids living in Derry,Maine , who are forced to confront the shape-shifting entity, It. It, normally taking the form of Pennywise the clown, constantly morphs into the children’s worst fears, so as they find a way to deal with the supernatural presence they’re forced to confront their fears and doubts in the open. It’s a beautiful melding of coming-of-age and supernatural horror that takes relatable fears a lot of us have had and amplifies them to the nth degree. Having It’s manifestations be related to the characters at such an intimate level also keeps the subsequent scares memorable and more terrifying. Knowing there’s a malevolent entity that’s enjoying torturing you and your friends, waiting to eat you at the end of all of it would make any adult cry, let alone a middle school kid who’s just at the beginning of their introspective journey.

This is made all the better by how well (almost) each of the Losers is characterized and developed. Bill, the de-facto leader of the group is traumatized after losing his brother to It and feels a deep sense of personal guilty and responsibility to rectify the situation. Beverly, the ostracized and slut-shamed girl at school, finds a new home in the group as they give her a place to feel safe. Ben’s the nerd of the group and always has intel on what’s going on. Richie is the smart ass, constantly making light of the situation and providing the comic relief. Eddie, is a germaphobe with a serious case of smothering mother. Stanley is the scaredy cat of group and Mike is the home-schooled kid who also happens to be one of the only black people in Derry. Every performance is top notch and the characters genuinely feel like kids who are out and about trying to figure out what’s going on. They all feel like real kids with real problems going through a horrifying situation that they can’t control. Watching them grow and develop in the adversity is both exciting because of the nature of the dangers that await the group, and touching because of the way the situation reminded me of my childhood.

For the most part each character is given an appropriate time to develop. Seeing them as individuals and in a larger group for extended periods of time makes noticing the subtleties of their friendship more rewarding. The group doesn’t start off singing Hakuna Matata because it’s made up of multiple clusters of friends that intersect with common points of contact. Everyone has a different relationship with everyone else so they have to learn how to navigate their broader social environment. All that connects the group is their shared condition as outcasts. The combination of all the characteristics under one moniker, combined with the easily relatable themes, makes getting invested in the story easy. Hell, at some point in my life, I would have found myself in the Losers club and I’m sure I’m not the only one.

The most surprising aspect of the movie to me is just how scary Pennywise comes off as. It’s not just the special effects or the fact that the scares are intimately connected to the characters.It’s (no pun intended) the man under the makeup – Bill Skarsgaard. He absolutely sells Pennywise’s delight in torturing the children with how enthusiastically he throws himself in rushing at them or making fun of them with a litany of sarcastic jabs. He’s childlike in the way he laughs at his own jokes or the way he relishes in his “pranks”. It comes off as a perversion of innocence, which is exactly the point. Definitely one of the best horror villains and performances of the past decade.

Unfortunately, by making the movie more mainstream, especially in the use of cheap jump scare noises, the horror feel a lot less memorable or mesmerizing. It is scary and watching the creature torment the children as their worst possible fears is scary enough. I know jump scares are popular, and I’m not saying the movie needed to get rid of all of them, but I think it should’ve taken a more controlled approach to maximize the effect they have. Some of the It vs Loser sequences are genuinely unique and fun to watch. It’s a shame that they don’t get to shine on their own and get drowned out by a loud noise telling you to be scared. The third act also diminishes the tension of scare sequences by injecting random bits of humor that really ruined the tension that had been building up to then.

Certain characters get little to no love development wise and it makes them stick out like sore thumbs when compared to the excellent moments everyone else gets. I’m okay with the bully characters having less time to shine because the main cast is so large, but Mike got done dirty. I feel like he barely has time to grow and gel with the group and I think the interactions between him and the others could have been more interesting. The movie hints that there’s a racial dynamic at play, but it’s only ever mentioned by the bully and doesn’t feel like it’s as incorporated into the story. It’s a lot of missed potential that makes his inclusion feel odd.

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TLDRIt manages to be unique while being mainstream enough to watch with friends. The clever coming-of-age story is relatable to everyone who ever grew up afraid of something, and the characters and their respective tribulations will get you invested in the story, no matter how wonky some events play out. Some themes and characters aren’t properly developed which hold the movie back from being a true masterpiece, but it’s a hell of a fun time regardless.
Rating9.3/10
GradeA

Review: Let Me In

Director(s)Matt Reeves
Principal CastChloe Grace Moretz as Abby
Kodi Smit-McPhee as Owen
Richard Jenkins as Thomas
Release Date2010
Language(s)English
Running Time 116 minutes

This is a hard movie for me to rate and I’ve struggled with coming up with a number for a long time. I initially saw the movie in 2011 and thought it was amazing. I was completely enamored and couldn’t stop thinking about it. It got me reading the Wikipedia page to find more information ,and I saw that it was a remake of a Swedish movie called Let the Right One In, which itself is based on a novel of the same name. I thought it’d be fun to see the original movie and read the book to see how the Reeves version compared. The process left me in a strange position. While the Reeves version is stellar in composition, it comes off feeling like a replica of the original movie with an English dub. There are slight changes in setting, the starting point the movie leaps off from, and the way the theme of growing up is handled, but it’s not enough to make the movie feel like something wholly unique (like Evil Dead vs The Evil Dead) .

For those of you unacquainted with the book or 2008 movie, the story follows an ostracized young child, Owen, who’s struggling to find his place in life. He’s bullied at school and can’t really relate the adults around him. Eventually a young “girl”, Abby, moves in next door. Unbeknownst to Owen, Abby’s actually a vampire. As the two interact more often, a budding friendship is born, and their lives are radically changed. Given that information, the opening shot of the movie feels completely out of place with audience expectations. It starts in on a disfigured individual who jumps to his death from a hospital building, leaving behind a note that says “I’m sorry Abby.” This initial scene sets the tone for the rest of the movie and tinges the experience with a more sinister sense of mystery. Who’s the person , how did they end up there, and why were they apologizing? It gives the movie a lot of action before the slower paced story kicks in and is one of the unique things Reeves did to spice up his adaptation.

Traditionally, coming-of-age stories are about trying to find your path and footing in the world. The unpredictable chaos of everything combined with hyper-active hormones leads to a sense of confusion and wonder. Trying to determine how characters will progress becomes part of the fun. This movie subverts that expectation and is another original Reeves move. Adults are reduced to mere outlines of human interaction. Owen is rarely shown interacting with them and when he does those moments are often reduced to trite conversations with little weight. Hell, in a move I really like, Reeves never shows Owen’s mom’s face. The absence of any positive adult influence makes the progression of Owens story easy to predict, so if you like trying to guess or interpret those types of the things, you may feel like the movie tells you too much. However, if you accept the conclusion, the movie takes on this cool surreal feeling. It’s almost poetic watching the foregone conclusion slowly play out.

Smit-McPhee and Moretz knock it out of the park and give the movie a real heart and spirit. Their chemistry as friends is genuinely touching to watch and reminded me of a lot of moments in my childhood. You can see them warm up to each other, and because the movie takes its time, the subsequent places they go feel emotionally satisfying. Smit-McPhee really hits the nail on the head of bullied kid who desperately wants to feel like he has agency again. He manages to be creepy but sympathetic. You want him to find a path to happiness, even if he gives you the heebie jeebies with his weird masculine inducing rituals. Moretz absolutely nails child vampire. She’s innocent, but she’s also horrifying. She asks basic questions like “What’s a girlfriend?” but then has to consume other people’s blood to survive. None of these shifts feel out of character and it keeps Abby feeling complex.

Just because this is a romance with cute moments of friendship doesn’t mean it’s sunshine and daisies all the time. People are brutally murdered and their blood canvasses the white snow. The contrast is stunning and makes it clear that violence pervades our everyday existence. It can come from anywhere and doesn’t line up with what we think. The visual effects team does a great job at showing the horrors of vampire life by demonstrating the consequences of breaking vampire rules and by making the kill sequences feel deliberately violent. You can feel the pain respective character’s go through. Out of the two movies, I think this one is more visceral in its scares, so if that’s something you’re looking for you should check this out.

Report Card

TLDREven if Let Me In feels a little too derivative of its 2008 Swedish counterpart, its worth giving a watch if you’re looking for a coming-of-age romance with a horror twist. It’s equal parts heartwarming and horrifying and has some of the best child performances I’ve ever seen. I may rag on the movie for feeling like a clone of the original, but that’s not a bad thing. It means it has a great story, memorable characters, poignant and relevant themes, and great horror sequences. Reeves definitely refines and polishes some of these elements and I appreciate him making the movie more accessible to a widespread audience. I just wish that the movie felt more distinct .
Rating9.4/10
GradeA

Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!