And this one is a remake of the Swedish version (“Let The Right One In”) released just two years ago. And, it relies heavily on child actors, which is always a risky proposition in a major film. But somehow it works. Perhaps because the original screenplay actually contains a real story, which delivers this particular horror movie from the smash-and-rip gore-fest of the current American genre of shock flicks.
Kodi Smit-McPhee (the kid in “The Road”) plays Owen, a frail, introverted boy who lives in Los Alamos, N. M., in a small apartment building with his mother, who always seems preoccupied, talks angrily on the phone with her estranged husband about terms of the divorce, drinks a lot of wine in the evening, and whose face is usually concealed, or her back turned, or she’s shouting from the next room. Yes, the distance Owen feels from her is palpable. There is only one conversation with his Dad, over the phone, which is a real heartbreaker, because he’s asking his Dad for help, and his father is all too ready to blame whatever problem Owen may have on his “crazy” mother, who’s “brainwashing” him. The distant Dad apologizes for his recent absence, and promises to do better, and Owen hangs up with “I love you,” barely choking back the torrent of tears that comes immediately afterwards. And we wonder how many conversations just like that there are in America right now.
Kodi likes to hang out on the playground, outside, and there’s something about the starkness of the empty jungle gym, covered with snow, that accentuates how startled he is when suddenly a girl appears beside him, barefoot. He literally did not see her coming, and that’s a metaphor for the whole relationship to follow. She, too, is 12 years old, though she says “more or less,” and he wonders what she means by that. She, too, seems quiet, and appears to avoid contact with others. She, too, lives only with one parent (Richard Jenkins), and he also seems mostly distracted and often exhausted. Abby (Chloe Moretz) tries to tell him that she doesn’t make friends, and perhaps he should have listened. Kodi finds himself surrounded by stories of strange disappearances, and brutal murders, even of kids at his school.
Going to school is already a miserable experience for Kodi, because three bigger boys constantly bully him. And even seeing their “leader” in turn being bullied by his older brother hardly compensates for Kodi’s restless sense of isolation and estrangement.
It would have been better to have seen this movie with fresh eyes, so the plot development would be a surprise, but with so many bloggers eager to give away plot themes, you probably already know that the little girl is, in fact, a vampire. The balance of the film involves Kodi coming to grips with a reality he can hardly even understand, much less appreciate.
Yes, of course, there are moments of sudden violence. And yes, there is a hint of romance between these awkward prepubescents. But what really hooks the viewer is the central story of a lonely little boy trying to find his way in a cold, uncaring world with few resources except his own lights, reaching for whatever emotional connection he can find, which may describe most of us more than we’re willing to admit.
RONALD P. SALFEN is pastor of Grace Church, Greenville, Texas.