It's 1983 in Los Alamos, NM, and 12-year-old Owen is a beleaguered outcast. He's bullied at school. He's isolated from his mom, who's going through a bitter divorce. And he's overwhelmed with the new sexual feelings that are coursing through his body.
Owen's social life consists of using a telescope to spy on his neighbors in their apartment complex. And that's how he first sees Abby, who moves in next door. Also a loner, the strange and beautiful 12-year-old girl who effortlessly walks barefoot in the snow has moved around a lot with her aging father. And though she originally tells Owen they can't be friends, she quickly becomes his sole and most sympathetic companion.
But through his bedroom wall at night Owen can hear an otherworldly voice savagely yelling.
A vampire fable based on a 2004 Swedish novel titled Let the Right One In and a remake of the 2008 Swedish film of the same name, Let Me In juxtaposes tender adolescent crushes and the horrific results of flirting with evil.
[Note: Spoilers are contained in the following sections.]
Distracted as she is by her marital turmoil, Owen's mother still tries to make room for her son. A detective works tirelessly to put an end to the brutal murders that crop up around Abby.
Owen chooses death over life, evil over goodness in Let Me In. And we'll explore what those decisions mean in my conclusion. But it seems that a preface is needed: We shouldn't too hastily distance Owen's decisions from our own. It seems like an outlandish comparison, perhaps, but even though our own struggle with evil is vampire-free, our sin traps us in just the same way.
Owen asks his father if there is such a thing as evil, and if people can be evil. His dad dismisses the questions by lashing out at his wife for filling Owen's head with "religious crap." The detective believes the murders must be connected to some sort of Satan worship. Abby is preternaturally fast and strong. It's implied that she can fly.
Owen's mom begins each meal with a prayer, thanking God for the food and asking Him to protect them from evil. As Owen steals money from his mother's purse, a picture of Jesus "looks" on.
Owen is a 12-year-old boy suddenly besieged by the displays of sexual affection he sees all around him. Abby, meanwhile, is essentially a centuries-old pedophile who attacks Owen's emotions instead of his body. (She's not really a human girl, and she doesn't have sexual organs, a reality described in the novel and pictured in the original movie, but left implied here.) Abby undresses onscreen, her nudity obscured by a very blurry focus. Then she crawls into bed with a groggy Owen, who senses she's naked beside him. It's then that he asks her to go steady with him. She agrees once she's convinced he doesn't want anything sexual from her. She lightly kisses Owen several times, and they hold hands. She comes out of the shower wearing only a towel.
A woman's breast is seen and her lover's hand caresses it as Owen spies on them. The adolescent boy breathes heavier as he watches. Bare-chested boys in their underwear are seen in a locker room. Girls are seen in swimsuits that reveal some cleavage.
Abby's guardian repeatedly commits murder in order to feed her. And it's implied that his decades-long string of ritualistic killings snakes through numerous states and cities. The ones he commits in Los Alamos are graphically depicted. He strangles one young man. Another victim he kills, then hangs upside down from a tree branch, callously stabbing the body to drain the blood. He disposes of a body, dragging it to a river and submerging it.
And the camera never blinks.
Abby pretends to be a scared homeless girl to lure a man to her. When he picks her up, she viciously attacks him, killing him, drinking from his neck and then snapping it. Her supernatural strength easily takes him down like a leopard killing its prey. She kills others in similar fashion, the gore and blood on full display.
In one case, she does this in front of Owen, who turns away and refuses to help her victim.
Owen purposely slices a finger so he and Abby can share a blood pact. This, of course, sends Abby into a frenzy, and she promptly attacks a neighbor woman. The woman survives—only to become a vampire while in the hospital. She's shown slurping up blood from her own chewed arm after an infusion. And she bursts into flames when a nurse opens a window blind. (The nurse dies in the fire, too.)
We see people's skin peeling off in the flames of that "accident." And we also see a man's horrendously burned face after he intentionally pours acid over his head. He screams out in pain as we hear his skin sizzle. And he finally ends it all by falling from a high window.
Owen's bullies violently pin him down and give him a painful wedgie until he urinates on himself. They hold Owen underwater, threatening to cut out one of his eyes if he doesn't stay submerged for three minutes. They also hit him with a thin metal rod, cutting his face with it and forcing him to cry out in pain for mercy. When he finally retaliates, he hits the ringleader in the head with a heavy metal pole, slicing his ear in two.
A car accident is shown happening from inside the vehicle as it rolls. Glass flies and its occupants are seen trapped inside, bloodied. Abby convulses and bleeds from all over her body. Severed limbs and heads are seen in the water and on land. The detective shoots at and then knocks down a door.
Crude or Profane Language
About 15 f-words and at least two s-words. Jesus' name is abused close to 10 times, usually with "Christ." God's name is misused around five times, once coupled with "d‑‑n." Other bad language includes a couple uses each of "a‑‑" and "p‑‑‑."
Drug and Alcohol Content
People smoke cigarettes or drink wine. Owen talks about a teenager who smoked and got drunk in a secluded basement. Abby's father uses a drug to render victims unconscious.
Other Negative Elements
As much about bullying as it is about vampires, Let Me In remorselessly plays out the vicious spiral of retaliation that can evolve when revenge becomes the driving force behind both the bully and the bullied. Owen idly "practices" stabbing his oppressors by jabbing a pocketknife into a tree. But Abby tells him he has to do more, that he has to "hit them back harder than you dare." So he does. The result? A bully with a badly busted up head. But while Owen thinks that will be the end of it, we all know it won't.
The school's principal and its teachers do absolutely nothing about the bullying or Owen's retribution.
It might be argued that Abby cares for the old man she calls her father. But as we see by the way she callously and, at times, violently treats her tired guardian, her instinct to stay alive by using him supersedes any real affection.
The same is true of her relationship with Owen. Even when Abby seems encouraging and friendly, she's likely just grooming another caretaker to eventually commit heinous serial murders for her. And when she ultimately saves Owen's life, she's really preying upon his tender conscience, knowing she's indebting him to her. For life.
Owen uses a telescope in his apartment to spy on neighbors. It is with this that he sees the topless woman. He lies to and steals from his mother. We hear him urinating in a restroom stall. We see Abby wretch.
Film critic Scott Mendelson rightly notes that "while most vampire stories use vampirism as a metaphor for rape (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) or allegedly inappropriate sexual behavior (Twilight, The Lost Boys), these two films [Let Me In and its Swedish predecessor] treat the condition as a crippling addiction, with nothing remotely glamorous or envious. There is nothing cool or hip about Abby's unquenchable need for blood and the damage it [wreaks] around her." He calls it a "refreshingly asexual portrayal of vampirism."
But it's Owen's struggle with the choice he's given between good and evil that really dominates this movie. It's no coincidence that part of Ronald Reagan's 1983 address to the National Association of Evangelicals is overheard in a hospital waiting room. With a sense of resolve, President Reagan says, "There is sin and evil in the world, and we're enjoined by Scripture and the Lord Jesus to oppose it with all our might."
Though it's a familiar vampire trope to ask permission to enter a home, Let Me In holds more meaning than that. Owen must choose whether he's going to oppose evil with all of his might, or whether he's going to let it in. And he's not tricked into it, either. He knows Abby is pure evil. But to him, opposing her ultimately isn't worth losing the only affection and compassion he feels he receives in life.
Director Matt Reeves almost certainly didn't intend to give audiences a spiritual health lesson, but he does nonetheless. The whole course Owen allows himself to be trapped in—his desire, his turning a blind eye to wickedness in order to feed his desire, his nurturing of that wickedness—is right out of James 1: "But each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death."
Death is exactly what Owen faces in the years to come with Abby. He doesn't fully realize it yet, of course, but he soon will. And the implication is that he will still choose to stay with her, just as her last guardian did. Killing for her. Dying for her.
So whether Abby's condition is a crippling addiction or not, we're still asked to feel empathy toward the undead. And we're still asked to absorb moments of Saw-level gore. All for a somewhat unintentional metaphor for sin's allure and its ominous destructiveness.