Last Stand Of The X-Men: Dark Phoenix (2019, directed by Simon Kinberg)

Last week, I finally watched Dark Phoenix and I could tell within 15 minutes that it wasn’t going to be good.  From the start, everything about it seemed to be off, particularly compared with other, more recent comic book films.  This is not Logan or Joker.  It’s not even as good as ApocalypseDark Phoenix felt like a comic book film from 2002 that somehow got made and released in 2019.

The latest installment of the X-Men film saga opens in 1992.  The X-Men have been hailed as heroes and it finally looks like like the dreams of Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) are going to come true.  Humans and mutants are going to co-exist.  Unfortunately, all of that progress is undone when Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) connects with a surge of energy and her powers go supernova.  Jean discovers that she was responsible for her mother’s death and her father rejected her as a result.  She also learns Xavier placed a mental block in her mind.  Seriously pissed off, Jean flees to the island of Genosha, which is ruled over by Magneto (Michael Fassbender).  She also accidentally kills Mystique, therefore freeing Jennifer Lawrence from having to appear in any more of these movies.  All the while, a shape-shifting alien named Vuk (a slumming Jessica Chastain) wants to capture Jean’s powers and use them for herself.

This was the second attempt to bring the Dark Phoenix saga to the screen and somehow, it was even more bland and forgettable than X-Men: Last Stand.  The Dark Phoenix saga is one of the greatest comic book storylines of all time but it seems destined to never be the basis of a good movie.  In the comic books, the Dark Phoenix saga was the accumulation of two decades of storytelling.  After being the most forgettable member of the original X-Men, Jean suddenly became the most powerful mutant in the world.  When she sacrificed herself for the good of the universe, it was not only the end of her life but also the end of one of Marvel’s longest-running love stories, as Cyclops could only cradle her body afterwards.  As usual, Marvel later lessened the emotional impact by revealing that the Phoenix wasn’t actually Jean but just an alien force that took on her memories and personality while the real Jean remained in suspended animation at the bottom of Jamaica Bay.  Despite this, the Dark Phoenix saga still remains a prime example of Marvel at its best.

Why, with such great source material and a talented cast, was this latest film version of the Dark Phoenix saga so cumbersome?  No one seemed to care.  Unlike in the comic books, there was no emotional depth to the story of Jean Grey losing herself and becoming the Dark Phoenix.  Instead, every scene felt like it was just there to set up the next CGI-fueled confrontation.   Sophie Turner and Tye Sheridan (who played Cyclops) seemed to barely know each other and the film spent more time on Nicholas Hoult’s Beast mourning for Mystique than on the relationship that should have been at the center of the film.  None of the actors seemed to be invested in the story.  I’ve never seen Jennifer Lawrence, Michael Fassbender, and James McAvoy look so bored.  The inevitable Magneto scene felt pointless.  The comic books could take a break from Magneto and let other villains have a turn.  The movies have to find an excuse to force him into every story.

It’s been said that the X-Men will be moving into the MCU and will get a whole new reboot.  We’ll probably get a third Dark Phoenix film someday.  I hope this one gets it right.

It’s Better Than Last Stand: X-Men: Apocalypse (2016, directed by Bryan Singer)

X-Men_-_ApocalypseIt is easy to forget what a big deal the first X-Men movie was in 2000.  At a time when Joel Schumacher was still the industry’s go-to director for super hero films, X-Men announced that films based on comic books did not have to be campy, silly, stupid, or feature Alicia Silverstone.  When X-Men was first released, critics and audiences were surprised to see a comic book film that was intelligent, well-acted, and actually about something.

The only people who were not shocked were those of us who grew up reading the X-Men books.  We already knew that the X-Men was about more than just heroes with super powers and flashy costumes.  We knew that the battles within the pages of the X-books were always meant to serve as a metaphor for racism and real-world prejudice and, since many of us felt like outcasts and mutants ourselves, we related to the characters.  We already knew that Magneto was often a sympathetic villain while Prof. X was not always a likable hero.  We knew that almost every battle that the X-Men fought came down to the question of whether or not different types of people could peacefully co-exist.  Unlike the critics, we were not shocked by X-Men‘s subtext.  Instead, we were just happy that Bryan Singer did not fuck things up.

All of the comic books films that have followed have owed a debt to critical and commercial success the first X-Men movie.  Without that success, there would probably have never been a Dark Knight trilogy or even an MCU.

FallofmutantsThe success of X-Men has also led to a 16 year-old franchise of movies about mutants and their struggle to live in a world that fears them.  X-Men: Apocalypse is the 9th installment in that franchise and it is based on the Fall of the Mutants storyline, which ran through several Marvel comics in 1988.

Continuing the pattern set by X-Men: First Class and X-Men: Days of Future Past, Apocalypse takes place in the past, back when Charles Xavier was still James McAvoy and Magneto was still Michael Fassbender.  (Unlike Days of Future Past, neither Patrick Strewart nor Ian McKellan makes an appearance.)  The year is 1983.  Ronald Reagan is President.  The Cold War still rages.  The music is better than it is today.  Xavier is running his school for gifted mutants youngsters.  Magneto is living, under an assumed name, in Poland.  Magneto is married and has a young daughter and as soon as I saw them, I knew they were going to die.  Magneto’s family never survives.

In Egypt, an ancient and powerful mutant named En Sabah Nur (Oscar Isaac) is awakened after being entombed for centuries.  Readers of the comic books will immediately recognize En Sabah Nur as Apocalypse.  Planning to destroy the world so that he can rebuild it in his own image, Apocalypse recruits his four horseman — Storm (Alexandra Shipp), Angel (Ben Hardy), Psylocke (Olivia Munn), and Magneto.  Apocalypse also wants to recruit Xavier to his side but Prof. X still believes that humans and mutants must learn to co-exist.

livingeraser1What’s interesting is that, even though Fassbender and McAvoy share a few scenes, this is the first X-Men film to not feature any sort of debate between Xavier and Magneto.  Magneto, one of the greatest comic book villains of all time, is actually a little boring here and, without those debates, Apocalypse lacks the subtext that distinguished the best of the previous X-Men films.  The emphasis is less on what it means to be an outsider and more on defeating Apocalypse.  Unfortunately, Apocalypse is a great character in the comic books but he does not translate well into film.  Unlike Magneto, who has several good and justifiable reasons for not trusting humanity, the film version of Apocalypse is portrayed as being pure evil and little else.  His plan to destroy the world never makes much sense and he is almost as bland as Dr. Doom in the latest Fantastic Four reboot.  Apocalypse could be any villain from any comic book movie that has been released over the past 16 years.  He could just as easily be the Living Eraser.

Apocalypse is also an origin story, showing how the modern incarnation of the X-Men first came to be.  We meet young versions of Scott Summers, Jean Grey, and Nightcrawler (played by Tye Sheridan, Sophie Turner, and Kodi Smit-McPhee) and Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) makes a brief appearance that feels like it was mostly included to set up the character’s third stand-alone film.  Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, and Evan Peters also return in the roles of Mystique, the Beast, and Quicksilver.  Peters is featured in the movie’s coolest scene, though that scene is basically just a redo of Days of Future Past‘s coolest scene.


(There’s also a blink-or-you’ll-miss-it cameo from Dazzler, which I guess means that Marvel’s disco queen will eventually be appearing on movie screens.)

X-Men: Apocalypse is not as good as either First Class or Days of Future Past but it’s still better than The Last Stand.  (Since Apocalypse takes place in 1983, Scott and Jean go to see Return of the Jedi and talk about how the third film of any franchise always sucks.)  It’s entertaining but, without an interesting villain or any sort of examination of what it really means to be an outcast,  Apocalypse is also forgettable in a way that X2 and Days of Future Past never were.  As a lifelong fan of the X-Men, I could not help but be disappointed.

Plus, this movie needed more Deadpool! (Note: Deadpool is not in X-Men: Apocalypse.)

Plus, this movie needed more Deadpool! (Note: Deadpool is not in X-Men: Apocalypse.)

One thing that especially bothered me is that Days of Future Past ended with Xavier promising to explain to Wolverine why he, Scott, and Jean were all still alive despite having been killed in The Last Stand.  If you were hoping Apocalypse would clear that up, don’t hold your breath.  I guess that question will remain unanswered until the 10th film.

Speaking of which, First Class was set in the 1960s and Days of Future Past largely took place in the 70s.  Apocalypse is an 80s movie so the next installment should be set in the early 90s.  Will Scott be listening to Nirvana or will he be playing air guitar to November Rain?  I guess we’ll have to wait to find out!


X-Men: Apocalypse Drops In With It’s Final Trailer

X-Men Apocalypse

20th Century Fox have to be feeling quite giddy and confident with their slate of blockbusters this summer. Deadpool slayed everyone that went up against it during it’s February release and has climbed the box-office charts to the levels I think even Fox executives couldn’t imagine.

Now comes it’s main comic book film property returning this summer with it’s biggest story, yet. X-Men: Apocalypse has been a storyline fans of the Marvel Mutants (not part of the MCU) have been clamoring for ever since the first X-Men film surprised everyone all the way back in 2000.

Bryan Singer returns for his 4th go-round with these new band of Merry Mutants (Hugh Jackman as Wolverine the only holdover from his original cast) with the immortal and first mutant En Sabah Nur aka Apocalypse up to no good. We get a bit more of the plot in this final trailer and even more city-wide destruction (I’ll give it a pass considering it’s being committed by someone called Apocalypse and not Superman).

X-Men: Apocalypse will bring the war on May 27, 2016

X-Men Apocalypse Super Bowl TV Spot

X-Men Apocalypse

The X-Men film franchise helped usher in the this golden age of comic book films. Looking back at those early films makes for a love them or hate them reaction. The first two helped establish the beloved characters onto the bigscreen while successive sequels and spinoffs did much to try and tear down the goodwill created by the former.

Matthew Vaughn helped in the franchise course correction with the surprisingly good X-Men: First Class. Bryan Singer’s return with that film’s follow-up with X-Men: Days of Future Past was another step in the right direction. It even marked the beginning of Fox’s attempt to replicate Marvel Studios’ cinematic universe building.

X-Men: Apocalypse is suppose to help build on the foundation laid down by the last film. It also looks to be a sort of reboot of the core characters to their much younger versions. The doomsday vibe of the film really comes off well in the trailer and it shows enough action to excite fans.

Then they show a great looking Psylocke using her psy-blade in a way it was never meant to be as. Just embrace books Fox. Just embrace it instead of mucking it up.

X-Men: Apocalypse will bring the war on May 27, 2016

Film Review: All The Wilderness (dir by Michael Johnson)

All the Wilderness

I recently watched an excellent little film called All The Wilderness.

James Charm (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is a shy and withdrawn teenager who is still struggling to deal with the recent death of his father.  He spends his time wandering around the forest surrounding the house where he lives with his mother (Virginia Madsen).  Occasionally, he makes his way into the nearby city and aimlessly wanders through the desolate streets.  In his spare time, he sketches pictures of dead animals and tells people that he can predict when they are going to die.  When he informs the local bully that he’s going to die in just a few more days, the bully responds by punching James in the face.

Sometimes, James visits a therapist (Danny DeVito) who seems to alternate between concern and indifference.  One day, while sitting in the waiting room, James meets Val (Isabelle Fuhrman), who is dealing with her parents’ divorce and spends her time making and selling eccentric doughnuts.  James likes Val but he’s too scared to open up to her.  Some of that may have to do with the mysterious, hooded figures who occasionally materialize out of thin air and pursue him through the streets.

After sneaking out of one unproductive therapy session, James discovers a mysterious man named Harmon (Evan Ross) playing a piano in a courtyard.  Later, after his hamster mysteriously dies, a distraught James sneaks out of his house, makes his way down to the city, and gets on a bus.  Sitting across from him is none other than Harmon.

Harmon invites James to follow him on a trip into the hidden corners of the city.  Soon, James is discovering that the wilderness is not only limited to the countryside surrounding his mother’s house.  There’s also an urban wilderness and, with Harmon as his guide, James starts to discover it.  And yet, even as James starts to find happiness, those hooded figures continue to follow him…

All The Wilderness reminded me a lot of last year’s underappreciated California Scheminganother atmospheric look at alienation that was full of existential dread.  All The Wilderness is probably not a film for everyone.  Not only is it extremely stylized but it’s also a bit too short.  All The Wilderness is one of the few films that could actually benefit from an additional 30 minutes added to its running time.

And yet, flaws and all, All The Wilderness is a great film and one that everyone should take the time to see.  It is perched so precariously between being insightful and being pretentious that it becomes oddly compelling to watch the film’s valiantly struggle to maintain its balance.  Visually, this is an incredible film just to look at, with the constantly moving camera capturing images of ominous yet undeniably beautiful urban decay.  In small roles, both Danny DeVito and Virginia Madsen are well-cast while Evan Ross is appropriately charismatic as Harmon.  Finally, Kodi Smit-McPhee — all grown up from his heartbreaking performances in The Road and Let Me In — gives a wonderful and versatile performance in the lead role.

All The Wilderness is a film that deserves to be seen.

Trash Film Guru Vs. The Summer Blockbusters : “Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes”


This is gonna be one easy review to write because it all boils down to this : you really can believe all the hype, Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes is flat-out fucking awesome, and you need to go out and see this flick immediately.

My job is done, I’m finished, goodnight.

But I guess I do have at least a little bit more to say —


I wasn’t a big fan of Cloverfield by any means, but I’m turning into a big fan of Matt Reeves. I know it’s heresy to some, but I thought that Let Me In was every bit as good as its Swedish progenitor, and with this latest — and, frankly, best — installment in the venerable Apes franchise,  Reeves has shown himself to be a director who is fully hitting his stride. The bigger and bolder the project, the more he seems to rise to the occasion. I frankly don’t even know how you go about eliciting good performances from actors who are only there for the purpose of having a bunch of hair overlaid onto their faces via computer, but he did it here. Andy Serkis, as ape leader Caesar, and Toby Kebbell, as his primary (and creepily duplicitous) rival, Koba, both turn in Oscar-caliber work on the basis of their facial expressions alone. They’re gonna wow you, folks, no lie.

As for the human actors playing — well, human parts, Jason Clarke is solid as stand-up guy Malcolm, apparent real-life asshole in the extreme Gary Oldman does typically competent (if, to be perfectly fair, unspectacular) work as survivalist head honcho Dreyfus, and Kodi Smit-McPhee is extremely convincing as Malcolm’s teenage son, Alexander (plus, he can be seen reading Charles Burns’ Black Hole, so bonus points for that). About the only weak link comes by way of nominal love interest Keri Russell, whose “concerned as shit” look at all times begins to grate pretty early on. But when you consider the fact that all these people spent pretty much the entire time in front of a blue (or maybe it was green) screen, getting only one subpar performance from the bunch is pretty good. And who knows? Maybe Russell simply can’t help coming off as worried 24/7.


My only other minor quibble here is with the title — when a film called Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes is followed by one called Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes, you gotta wonder when the buildup is going to stop and we’re finally gonna get down to the shit. Or maybe we’re looking at a 20-part story here and we’ve still got plenty of stage-setting to go, in which case we’ll be treated to Prelude To The Planet Of The Apes and We’re Still Getting To The Planet Of The Apes next.

Hey, I did say it was a minor quibble, did I not?


Apart from that, this has everything you’d want in a big-budget summer blockbuster, and quite a bit more than you’d honestly expect : there’s pathos, melodrama, palace (if your palace is a tree) intrigue, cheap scares, high-octane thrills, elaborately-staged battle sequences, and a genuine sense of urgency to the proceedings. Events — and tension — gradually build to the point of inevitability, and the film’s third act actually delivers in terms of its promised payoff.  And for those of you who are tired of James Franco’s ever-evolving shtick — whatever it is — rest assured that he doesn’t even pop up in a flashback sequence.

Ya know what? Let’s not even do Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes the disservice of comparing it to other summer popcorn flicks — this leaves typical blockbuster fare like The Avengers or Star Trek so far back in the dust it’s not even funny. What Reeves has made here is one of the very best films you’ll see all year, even if big-budget sci-fi grandiosity is not your thing. This is eloquent, spectacular, undeniably powerful drama of the highest order. It’s everything and the kitchen sink plus one of those nifty fancy programmable faucets all attached to a fancy-ass 300-pound granite countertop.

Okay, I’m finished with the italics, promise. If you don’t like this, you don’t like movies. My job here really is done.

Trailer: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (Official)

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

One of my most-anticipated films this summer of 2014 has released it’s latest trailer and it shows the central conflict which will drive this sequel to 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes.

It’s been many years since the pandemic from the “simian flu” tore through the planet as shown during the end credits of the first film. Now the surviving humans must now contend with the growing population of hyper-intelligent apes led by Caesar from the first film.

While the first film showed the rise of Caesar as a revolutionary leader it looks like this sequel will now put him in the role of war leader as his apes must now gear up for a war with the surviving humans that can’t seem to be avoided.

Plus, all I can say is this: Apes on horses with assault rifles.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is set for a July 11, 2014 release date.

Trailer: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

To say that 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes went a long way in washing out the taste out of fans mouth after having seen Tim Burton’s reboot of Planet of the Apes would be an understatement. Rupert Wyatt was able to bring the franchise back to prominence by actually treating the story as a sort of scifi allegory instead of a platform to once again exercise one’s filmmaking quirks.

It was a no-brainer that a sequel will follow up the success of the 2011 film. But with a fast-moving schedule there were several casualties. Rupert Wyatt didn’t think he had enough time to shoot the film the way he wanted to so he was replaced by Matt Reeves. James Franco is also gone from the project. Instead we get several veteran actors like Gary Oldman, Jason Clarke, Keri Russell and Kirk Acevedo joining Andy Serkis.

The film seems to take places a decade or so after the release of the deadly virus at the end of the first film. Humanity has survived both the virus and the wars which followed it, but civilization as we know it now are a thing of the past. With humanity trying to rebuild it must now deal with a rising nation of genetically-enhanced apes led by Andy Serkis’ Caesar. With Gary Oldman on one side seeming to be the leader of humanity’s survivors I don’t see peace as being a goal in this film.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is set for a July 11, 2014 release.

Film Review: ParaNorman (dir. by Sam Fell and Chris Butler)

I have to admit that I wasn’t expecting much from the new animated film ParaNorman.  As much as I love animated films, ParaNorman‘s trailer had never really captured my imagination.  (Or, at the very least, it hadn’t captured my imagination in the way that the trailers for Brave and Wreck-It Ralph did.)  For the most part, the only reason that ParaNorman was even on my radar was because it was advertised as being the latest film from the creators of Coraline and the only reason that Jeff and I ended up seeing this film last Friday instead of The Expendables 2 was because I had a slight headache and didn’t want to have to spend two hours listening to men yelling, guns firing, and bombs exploding.

In other words, I saw ParaNorman with low-to-no expectations and sometimes, that’s the perfect way to go to the movies because I absolutely loved ParaNorman.

ParaNorman tells the story of Norman (Kodi Smit-McPhee), a shy boy who has the ability to talk to the dead.  This talent comes in handy because Norman happens to live in the haunted New England town of Blithe Hollow. 

I fell in love with ParaNorman during the opening credits, in which we watch as Norman talks to the spirts of everyone from an unfortunte aviator to a squished dog, all the while simply trying to get to school on time.  In this short, wonderfully animated sequence, we learn everything that we need to know about Norman and the town of Blithe Hollow.  We learn that Norman is shy, he’s lonely, and he’s also one of the few people in the world nice enough to actually be polite to a pushy ghost demanding his attention.  As for the town of Blithe Hollow, it’s a memorably ugly creation, full of ominous buildings that seem to have sprung straight from a nightmare of German Expressionism. 

Blithe Hollow, we soon learn, is a town that’s haunted by a lot more than just a few restless spirits.  The town was founded by Puritans who, as the film begins, are mostly remembered for their witch hunts.  Centuries ago, the town founders burned a witch at the stake and that witch cursed the town.  While it wouldn’t be right for me to give away too many details of the plot, it turns out that the witch’s curse is very much real and, as a result of a several complications and mistakes on the part of both Norman and the citizens of Blithe Hollow, the town is soon overrun by zombies. 

In a twist that would make George Romero proud, the citizens of Blithe Hollow soon prove themselves to be a hundred times more monsterous and dangerous than the film’s actual monsters.  However, as only Norman can actually talk to the dead, he soon discovers that there’s more to the “zombie rampage” then meets the eye.  Soon, it becomes apparent that Norman’s the only one who can give the witch what she wants and save Blithe Hollow from the sins of the past.

Not surprisingly, there were a lot of children at the showing that Jeff and I attended and ParaNorman had enough silly moments to keep them entertained.  They seemed to enjoy the comedic relief provided by Norman’s fat and loyal friend Neil (voiced by Tucker Albrizzi).  That said, ParaNorman isn’t really a film for children.  It starts out slow and wisely devotes a good amount of time  to establishing the oppressive atmosphere of Blithe Hollow.  The film’s resolution comes not with the spectacle that we’ve been conditioned to expect from animated films but instead, the movie ends on a rather subdued, almost mournful note.  ParaNorman‘s humor is combined with a very real sense of melancholy and loss.  This is a film that can be enjoyed by kids but only truly understood by adults.

(If Dellamorte Dellamore is ever remade as an animated film, I expect the end result will look a lot like ParaNorman.)

 Don’t get me wrong, ParaNorman is a funny film that’s full of clever details and smart vocal performances. Along with Smit-McPhee and Albrizzi, the voice cast includes Anna Kendrick, Casey Affleck, John Goodman, Jeff Garlin, and Leslie Mann.  All of them deliver their lines with just the right combination of sincerity and melodrama.  However, the film is really stolen by Jodelle Ferland, who voices the condemned witch and who brought me to very real tears towards the end of the movie.

ParaNorman is hardly a perfect film but’s a nicely ambitious one and it has a good message about tolerance.  I wasn’t expecting much from it and I ended up adoring it.  Perhaps I should lower my expectations more often.

Review: Let Me In (dir. by Matt Reeves)

In 2008 a little film from Sweden swept through the film festivals and earned a rightful and well-deserved place in many film critics and film circles “best of 2008” and “top ten” lists. This was Swedish filmmaker’s film adaptation of the John Ajvide Lindqvist vampire novel, Let The Right One In. It was a vampire film that appealed not just to horror genre fans hungry for a vampire film that was the polar opposite of the current “Twilight” vampire craze. Horror fans wanted something that wasn’t watered down and emasculated to better appeal to the tween girl set. So, Alfredson’s vampire film was embraced by these horror fans and when news came that the rights to the novel was licensed by British-studio Hammer Film and an American-remake was set for production the reaction was decisively negative.

Fans of the original Swedish film were quite protective of the film and saw any plans to remake it for the North American audience as a cynical cash-grab. Their argument was that the original film was such a great one that there should be no need to remake it. Why fix something that wasn’t broken was another point made. It didn’t help the side of those supporting the remake that Matt Reeves was chosen to direct the remake. Reeves was better known as J. J. Abrams friend (some would say Reeves owes his success to Abrams and that he was coattailing the successful producer-director) and the director of the POV monster film, Cloverfield.

As strident fans of the original continued to vent and complain about the remake already failing (despite not an inch of film being shot) the producers were gradually filling the roles in the remake with some very interesting names. Fresh off her break-out performance in Kick-Ass was Chloe Grace Moretz taking on the role of Abby (the vampire child in the original was named Eli) with Kodi-Smit McPhee (The Road) taking on the role of the young boy Owen who befriends her. One name after the other filled out the cast with some very good veteran actors from Elias Koteas to Richard Jenkins (taking on the role of Abby’s Renfield).

Matt Reeeves’ version of Lindqvist novel from Alfredson comes from using the novel itself as the base for the screenplay Reeves himself wrote for the remake. While Let Me In shares many similarities in characters and situations from the original Swedish film, Reeves film does use more of the themes and details from the novel than Alfredson did for his adaptation. Let Me In definitely has enough about it which will distinguish itself from its Swedish counterpart and stand on its own.

The film switches locales from a suburb of in Sweden to a snowy Los Alamos, New Mexico (yes, it does snow in New Mexico). We learn quickly that Owen has become quite the loner due to the constant bullying by classmates. He spends time alone in the plaza area of the apartment complex he lives in with his mother (played by Carla Buono who we never fully see). He fantasizes of getting back at those who have and still bullying him even to the point that he buys a small pocketknife and practices his retribution on one of the trees in the plaza. It’s during one of his nighttime practices with the pocketknife that he first encounters Abby. There’s a certain wariness during their encounter with Abby proclaiming that Owen will not become a friend. But in time the two do become friends with Abby becoming quite protective of Owen once learning about the bullying he has to endure on a daily basis.

The change in Abby’s relationship with Owen doesn’t sit well with Abby’s Renfield. He asks Abby never to see Owen again as he goes out to procure Abby more fresh blood (a previous attempt goes awry forcing Abby to go out into the night to hunt). It’s in the scenes between Abby and Jenkins character that we see more of the duo’s relationship mirroring the novel’s. The novel explores the theme of pedophilia and while Reeves adaptation wasn’t quite obvious about it there are clues and small character interactions which hint at this pedophilic relationship which the Swedish original never really touched upon.

It’s in these small character interactions that Reeves’ film begins to differentiate itself from Alfredson’s version. The narrative between the two films still remain the same, but Reeves’ version explores the darker themes in the novel source while Alfredson concentrates more on the growing relationship between the two primary characters. These differences could be seen in how Reeves films Abby’s attacks while hunting her prey to be more animalistic (though at times the CGI seems too apparent when Abby attacks) and Abby’s subtle manipulation of Owen. I say manipulation because Abby seems very intent on trying to befriend and put Owen at ease despite the earlier comment that they will never be friends. Not to mention her Renfield admitting to Abby that he has gotten tired of what he has done to keep Abby safe and that maybe he wants to get caught to just end it all.

The film moves along quite leisurely but with a sense of growing dread not just between Owen and his bullies, but between Abby, her Renfield and those suspecting the duo. Owen gets caught in the lives of these two newcomers and soon gets confronted by Abby’s true nature and his own reaction to this. It’s a reaction that at first shows Owen fearing Abby and wanting to escape the growing bond between the two of them, but seeing how Abby’s been nothing but helpful to Owen he chooses to remain at her side. Abby rewards Owen’s protective nature by saving Owen from a near-deadly encounter with the school bullies at the school swimming pool.

This is the one sequence in Reeves’ film which many fans scrutinized to no end. The original film shot the scene with an almost arthouse eye despite the obvious violence involved. It was a scene where Alfredson filmed it as “less is more” and let the audience’s imagination run wild. Reeves’ does the same but adds his own stylistic touches to the sequence. not too much to make it so different from Alfredson’s version, but enough that it’s not a shot-for-shot copy. Again Reeves’ chose to show Abby’s violent predator aspect in this scene, but still keeps the focus of the scene on Owen as he struggles underwater. It’s only once he is out that we see — just as he does — the aftermath of Abby’s promise to protect Owen.

The question remains whether this American-remake stands up to the original. In terms of storytelling it more than holds it own from the original film and at times actually surpasses Alfredson’s version. This Reeves version journeys through the darkside more than the original film. It definitely strips away much of the arthouse sensibilities of Alfredson’s film which made it such a beauty to watch even if at times the narrative became more than too slow to keep one’s attention. Reeves’ adaptation doesn’t ramp up the pacing of the film, but keeps it moving forward even if at a gradual pace. When violence does occur in the remake it happens quickly and with a sense of brutality that the original film fails to deliver. The remake doesn’t linger on the gore and violence, but does show enough of it to remind everyone in the audience that this is a horror film first and foremost.

If there was one quibble to be made about this remake its that Reeves relies too much on CGI to show Abby at her most dangerous. Each attack made by Abby was shot at a wide-angle and we see every move but with each move done using CGI which gives it too much of an artificial look to it. It’s a testament to Moretz’ performance as she switches from a friendly Abby when interacting with Owen during their time together at night to one of a predator older than anyone in the film doing what was necessary to attain the blood needed to survive. Reeves could definitely have used less CGI and went for a more natural approach using sudden edits to show the ferocious nature of Abby’s attacks.

The film’s cast does a great job with the roles given to them. While it was Moretz’s and McPhee’s performances as Abby and Owen that keeps the audience’s attention and keeps it from wavering it’s the supporting cast around them which provides the glue. Koteas as the detective who begins to suspect Abby as having to do more with the attacks than previously mentioned was very good, but in the end it was Richard Jenkins in the Renfield role who would steal every scene he’s in. His character’s fatalistic acceptance of his role when it came to Abby was palpable. We watch him do horrible things to people and to himself, but we also get a sense that he couldn’t stop on his own if he wanted to. He has been doing the role of blood procurer for Abby for so long that he doesn’t know what else to do. I will say that Jenkin’s with the garbage bag mask when out hunting for victims will be the images that will stick to people’s minds long after they’ve left the theater. Some will even unconsciously check the back seat of their cars at night before getting in.

In the end, this remake of Let The Right One In doesn’t feel, look and sound like the cash-grab that cynical fans of the original have proclaimed it to be. Matt Reeves does a great job in adapting more of the novel in his version and using some of the darker themes in that source to allow his film to stand on its own when compared next to Alfredson’s version. The performances by everyone involved was wonderful and keeps the story’s slow pacing from losing the audience. While this remake doesn’t have the arthouse quality of the original film it does have a certain grittiness to its look which lends quite well in pointing out how brutal the narrative really was not just in physical violence but in how one of the two leads manipulates the situation to benefit it’s survival even if there was some genuine affection between Abby and Owen. In the end, Abby gets everything and continues to exist for another boy’s lifetime.

Fans so vocal of their negative attitudes towards this film will not have their minds changed, but those keeping an open-mind will be rewarded with one of the better horror films of the year. If the original Swedish adaptation never existed I’m quite sure that all the accolades heaped on Tomas Alfredson’s film would be given to Matt Reeves instead. A remake should never be discounted because its one of an original that’s already lauded for its quality. There’s been bad remakes but thankfully Let Me In is not one of them.