Friday, June 1, 2012

TOP 10 SHOTS from "Let Me In"

Welcome to TOP 10 SHOTS, our regular convening space in receiving visually strong films of the recent past, and I must make that emphasis on "films". As much as this column often provides distinctive shots of massive value in and of themselves, it is also a way of dissecting the films more accurately than a straightforward review. It's a measured way of conveying what I feel throughout a film without having you right here beside me watching it. That's what keeps me returning to this stream, and hopefully you as well. Just a month ago I had the positive reaction to my piece on "Atonement" that inspired them to revisit the film. If I'm doing this for any reason, it's that.

But on to this week's film, which I had to do a bit of digging to arrive at, since "Snow White and the Huntsman" director Rupert Sanders is making his debut. No disrespect, but I do not consider it a good sign when a director makes his debut with a blockbuster. So I went straight to cinematographer Greig Fraser, whose work on the film may not turn out so fantastic, as is often the case with blockbusters, but Fraser does have some rather interesting credits on him. He worked with Jan Campion on "Bright Star", which I regret to say I still must get around to, but what stuck out to me rather immediately was his work on "Let Me In".

Now don't misunderstand my choice on doing this film as frowning upon Tomas Alfredson's vastly superior "Let the Right One In". I do not believe that Matt Reeves' film is at all better than Alfredson's original rendering. This is a rare example of both editions existing separately as their own iterations, even if one is admittedly better. I'll doubtlessly get to the Swedish film somewhere down the road, but for this time, I felt it good to pay some attention to the American version, even if the film is rife with flaws. It's true that this is a very sentimentalist portrayal of the story, and at times quite far too indulgent in empty political contexts, but there are some genuine ways it establishes panic or relationships through the cinematography.

10. Police Escort

The film kicks off with a jump into a place we're uncertain of, vaulted into a world of gruesome self-mutilation with little explanations. This shot is the second of the film, following a convoy of police vehicles and a subsequent ambulance, all through the shroud of darkened woods as they rush by at near equal pace of the cars. Aside from the obvious trials they doubtlessly had to go through to get this shot to work, the fact that we are moving at an almost equal pace as the ambulances does put in a hint of paranoia as to what perspective we're seeing this from. Needless to say, it sets the mood.

9. Hands to the Barrier

Director Matt Reeves leans, perhaps to reverently, on the object of entrance and exclusion as a way of portraying relationships. We'll see that trend continue throughout this list, be it in different ways, and not necessarily so subtle. This shot of Owen embracing the wall of his apartment that connects to that of his neighbor's, Abby, is one of desperation. He, after all, is somebody who doesn't really have any friends, though that's never exactly explained so much. But even as he dreads the events taking place beyond that barrier, he is still rather insistent on breaking it, if for nothing else, just to have something real to hold on to.

8. Running in the Moonlight

A crucial moment in the events transpiring around "the father", which is the name given to Richard Jenkins' rather ambiguously defined character. Jenkins plays it with a great heft of complexity to his motives, and you have to give him some credit for that. His character is one who is on the edge of being made purposeless, and he's starting to sink into the tragedy of his situation. As the light shines blue through the trees, he darts past in attempt to escape its grasp. So much of the film has him hard to pin down in terms of onscreen location. When he's exposed, it's a point of shame, and utter panic as well.

7. Through Glass and Bars

The crux difference in terms of overall plot between the Swedish and American versions is that, where the original played on an emotional tie to someone Eli inadvertently killed, "Let Me In" used a police investigator as the point of moral direction. It's a distinction they made to give their film its own identity, though it wasn't quite as motivating or intense a string to tie from. I still have to give Elias Koteas props for playing the scenes so well, despite a lack of development in character. This shot, placed suspensefully near the end of his storyline, is one that shows both a barrier distorting his understanding of the scene, and bars to show there's no escape. It's two distinctions that this shot makes.

6. Let Me In

Another glass barrier, and there are quite a lot in this film. The strongest distinction between any of these is the characters that they represent, or the relationships they latch onto. This one is another ending for a character, specifically Richard Jenkins', though he may very well not have had to come into work for this scene. What it represents here is what it represented to him at the start of his story, long before this film began. The bond that Abby represents is told presently through Owen, but the future is told through the father. It's a story that ends itself quite disappointingly. This shot put that forth quite well

5. Narrow Perspectives

A rather fine depiction of a messy situation for Owen is how he is shown in the parent-teacher conference following his inadvertent mutilation of a student. Unable to explain the situation out of a state of pure fear, we are the only ones given full view of him. But I dare not focus on the boxed-off scenario of the image, and more on the narrow crevices that the adults are shown through. We're meant to believe, in this case, we're on the side of knowing what's going on, Owen is looking into that, and the adults are only privy to a fractured knowledge of it. A narrow view, as it were, though the meaning of this shot is obviously not as significant as the meaning of a similar shot from "Inglourious Basterds".

4. Clotting the Drain

There are just too many shots that say nothing about the Abby character specifically, which she is indeed mostly a catalyst to the events of the other characters in this world. But in this shot we get about as close as we're ever truly going to get to her. Washing the blood off of herself after Owen "lets her in" to his apartment, her foot takes in interesting trajectory with the drain as the blood flows down to it. She hesitantly plugs it up and lets the blood flow, almost relishing in her murderous tendencies as she is intent on hiding them. It's an interesting character designation that Chloe Grace Moretz refuses to sink into more deeply.

3. Fading Memory

For the sake of this list, the end of Owen's story is pretty much when Abby leaves, which it's worth noting that this film is rife with flaws. I bitch about them plenty, and I think this has been the fantastic opportunity to sink visually into a film that isn't all that good, but still has enough note-worthy shots. None of the moments towards the end, or even towards the beginning, are given enough dramatic weight. Only visual weight, really, or in the case of this shot, removal of weight. It's an extremely light shot, at first being just purely white, but then we see the faint vision of the playground Owen and Abby met on. A simple, and slightly aching, gesture.

2. Bracing the Fire

This may be the most important moment in the chronology of the police investigator character, who is shown as moral compass of the film and directional adviser in what should be done. He doesn't have the full story, but he knows what should be done. He shows that in this scene of Victoria bursting into flames in the hospital room, which is the most shocking thing to happen, and it just burns out. What the police inspector serves as here is a reluctant shield to the flames, trying to hold back Victoria's boyfriend, but in equal terror of being swallowed up himself. It's an agitated response, and he himself serves as a barrier, in this case a necessary one, from the evils of the world.

1. Back Seat Crash

The most extra-cinematic flourish that this film gets away with happens in a single ambitious shot which was touted rather effectively in promotion of the film. The father is damn close to being blown, spotted, and jailed, which is almost inevitable at this point. His attempt at escape is flailing, desperate, and not so well thought through. We are shown the situation from his guise of view, only knowing what we're leaving behind and being assaulted and confused out of left field by what is coming at us. Once it's over, we barely know what happened, until it cuts away and we see. In the moment, it's a frenzied and effective flourish.

So, what do you think of my picks, and what are yours? Comment below, and we'll be back again next Friday!

HINT FOR NEXT WEEK'S (TENTATIVE) FILM: Er... Chestburster? Come on, this should be obvious. It's "Alien"!

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