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'Let Me In' keeps the killer in the vampire thriller.

'LET ME IN': Chloe Moretz stars.
  • 'LET ME IN': Chloe Moretz stars.

As someone who is a fan of vampire lit and film going all the way back to John Polidori's "The Vampyre" (Count Dracula's literary grandpa) and "Nosferatu," I've been absolutely gutted by the ongoing sparklification of everybody's favorite supernatural parasites. Vampires don't sparkle. They have nothing to do with Louisiana rednecks. They have nothing to do with making a "choice" to drink animal blood over the hi-test stuff you and I have got flowing in our veins. From the beginning, Bram Stoker and before, the vampire was a once-human fiend, doomed to feed on others. While there is some room for sympathy in the "once human" part of that, Stoker's genre-defining Count (a stand-in for Victorian England's anxiety about virile foreigners swooping in, stealing their women and destroying their culture) made it clear: Even the reluctant vampire is a rapist in every sense of the word, forcing his victims to mingle their bodily fluids with his and — worse — making them a creature like himself in the bargain.

A film that still gets that, even in this age where the vampire has been mostly de-fanged by Neo-Victorian simp Stephanie Meyer, is "Let Me In." A retread of the superb Swedish flick "Lat den Ratte Komma In" (it's on Netflix instant, so check it out; you won't be disappointed), "Let Me In" is the rare remake that might actually be on par with the original.

In the film, Kodi Smith-McPhee plays Owen, a slight, picked-on boy of 12. Owen's parents are going through a divorce, which occupies his mother to the point that Owen almost doesn't know her (this is dramatized by the film's brilliant refusal to ever show her face). Living in a drab apartment block in Los Alamos, N.M., during the winter of 1985, Owen is angry, and lives mostly through the lives of others, watching his neighbors through a telescope and only going outside after dark. At school, he is friendless and terrorized by a gang of older bullies, led by the diabolical Kenny (Dylan Minette). That begins to change when he meets Abby (Chloe Moretz), a girl who moves in with her father (Richard Jenkins) to the apartment next door to his. Abby isn't like other girls. Even with snow on the ground, Abby never wears a coat or shoes, and can move without a sound. Though Owen is innocent enough that he sees nothing alarming in that, what he doesn't know is that Abby is a vampire, and has been 12 years old for a very, very long time. Her "father" is actually more like a handler, and goes out into the world to drain unsuspecting folks of their blood, storing the juice in a jug so Abby doesn't have to hunt (the realization of who this father is and why he does what he does is one of the more heart-wrenching moments of the film). Things soon begin to unravel, and Owen realizes that his new playmate — who encourages him to strike back at the bullies — is more than she appears, leading to one of the most shocking and satisfying endings in recent film.

Chloe Moretz — who, as pint-sized killing machine Hit Girl, was the only good thing about last year's superhero flop "Kick Ass" — is transcendent here in a demanding role. Though she's playing a character that's very old, she clearly understands that Abby is eternally stuck in that middle place between girl and woman, on the cusp between innocence and sexuality. Moretz transmits the frustration of that with an ease that would be admired by actors twice her age. At the same time, there is a genuine goodness to her Abby that makes you feel her pain exquisitely — not 10 minutes after you watch her rip an innocent woman's throat out. She may well be remembered when it's time for the Oscar nominations to come out.

Almost as good is Kodi Smith-McPhee as Owen. Though his only real job is to play the victim here, the anger over his own situation oozes from his pores, as does his innocence and his burgeoning sexual curiosity. Paired up with Moretz, you get one of the oddest puppy love stories in recent memory.

The real question of the film for me — as with "Lat Den Ratte Komma In" — is whether Abby's feelings for Owen are genuine, or if she's just looking for another handler now that her old "father" is getting sloppy and a bit long in the tooth. Though that question is only hinted at, it hovers over the whole film like a dark cloud. The thought that Owen and Abby might someday share the same love/hate relationship as she does with her father in the film is a shocking thing to speculate about. At the core of that is the inevitable fact of all vampires of the non-sparkly variety: She is the girl who never dies, a bloodthirsty killer, and anyone who loves her is doomed to grow old with and without her.

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