You won’t see me openly campaigning for a lot of things in this space. There are people who do that professionally, and I don’t really have a dog in this fight. But if I see a worthy candidate, I’m going to follow the instructions that I see on the subway and say something. In this case, I would like to make a case for ‘Let Me In’, Matt Reeves’ outstanding take on the original Swedish film ‘Let the Right One In‘. Yes, it’s about vampires. And yes, it should be nominated for a Best Picture Oscar.
Part of the reason I’m so adamant about the film getting into the Best Picture dogfight is that so few people saw it in the theaters during its initial run. In fact, I would speculate (probably wisely) that more people saw ‘The Hurt Locker‘, the tiny-budgeted Iraq-set thriller that wound up winning last year’s Best Picture, than saw this gem. And ‘Let Me In‘ has an audience-friendly bargain basement hook (vampires!), one that’s particularly en vogue right now (vampires!) and easy to sell to modern moviegoers. But nope. They didn’t, er, bite.
That isn’t what makes it one of the best movies of the year, one whose visceral power is matched by that of its emotional oomph. It’s handsomely made and assembled, enough so that all of its creative and technical principles (people like Michael Giacchino, who contributed the appropriately baroque score, and Greig Fraser, who supervised the chilly cinematography) should also score nominations. They won’t, of course, but they should.
Chief amongst the reasons why ‘Let Me In’ should win Best Picture is because horror films are, by and large, the least-awarded genre in Academy history. The last horror movie to win Best Picture was 1991’s ‘The Silence of the Lambs‘, and snooty film types will unfairly make the distinction that, “Hey, it’s not a horror movie, it’s a psychological thriller!” (Sorry, bub. Any film that features a main character who flays women and wears their skin is a horror movie. See also: ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre‘.)
‘Let Me In’ shouldn’t be nominated just because it’s a horror movie. But with ten spots open, it’d be nice to see a more rounded culinary palette at the Awards. The movie is good, just as good as any other this year. I would argue heartily that the emotional bond forged between a young boy in 1980s New Mexico (Kodi Smit-McPhee) and an ageless vampire (Chloe Grace Moretz) is more striking than anything cooked up in the strangely aloof ‘King’s Speech’ (so far the Best Picture forerunner, mostly because it doesn’t feature a dude slicing off his own arm)
Reeves created an emotionally resonant creature feature, a true rarity in a genre most defined by bloodletting. There is some blood, sure, but the movie has so much texture – with its Cold War setting, and more of an emphasis on the internal lives of the characters. Some critics wrongly dismissed the film as being more occupied with the “vampire” aspect than the original, but I totally disagree. Here, the characters, human or not, have fuller, more palpable expressions. Look no further than Richard Jenkins’ performance as a serial killer/protector. And Reeves wisely removed the “cat attack” sequence from the original.
These are all pluses, along with a number of other things that would make it tidy Oscar bait under different circumstances (its period setting, the young actors, the universal themes of alienation and the painfulness of growing old). Yet because it’s wrapped in the crispy outer shell of a vampire movie, it will likely be dismissed.
This is wrong for the reasons stated above, and for all that ‘Let Me In’ achieves in its 95 minute running time. It’s a Halloween thriller that made the hardened critics at my screening elicit “Awwws” and sniffles. It would have been a sensation had anyone seen it. (Not even Stephen King’s proclamation that it was the best horror film in 20 years did it much good.) A rightfully-deserved Best Picture nomination could breathe a second life into the film, which comes out on Blu-ray in February, just before the Awards. Both Academy voters and the everyday American could let in ‘Let Me In.’ If only.