There was a time when vampire movies were actually scary. Before Twilight, before Van Helsing and Underworld, and even way back before Interview with the Vampire, they had the ability to honestly frighten the crap out of moviegoers. They weren’t campy, they didn’t spawn global arguments about different ‘teams’, and they certainly weren’t lame enough to be spoofed in dreck like Vampires Suck. Vampires used to be flat-out horrifying.

In director Matt Reeves’ fantastic Let Me In, they are again.

Based on the novel Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist (which he adapted for the screen in the 2008 original Swedish film), Let Me In grabs you from the opening shots of an ambulance racing through the snowy New Mexico wilderness, and it never lets up. Reeves, who helmed the herky-jerky Cloverfield, proves that he knows how to settle down and focus on letting the characters (not action) lead the way. The result is something truly memorable– one of the scariest, creepiest, and engrossing films to hit the horror genre in years.

Kodi Smit-McPhee (The Road) plays Owen, a shy, friendless, bullied middle-schooler in 1983. (In fact, the action all takes place in the weeks surrounding President Reagan’s famous ‘Evil Empire’ speech. Hmmm.) Owen passes his time by spying on the neighbors in his apartment complex and sitting alone on its snow-covered jungle gym.

One night, a young girl named Abby (Chloë Moretz, Kick-Ass) and her father (Richard Jenkins, Eat Pray Love) move in. She walks around barefoot in the snow, is even quieter than Owen, and ‘smells funny’. Owen takes to her immediately, but she’s quick to tell him that they can’t be friends.

Turns out, she’s a vampire (who’s been 12 for a ‘really long time’) and her ‘father’ is just the unlucky sap who has to venture out into the real world each night and kill someone, so she can eat. Owen, of course, is unaware of all this, and he and Abby develop a strangely compelling and tender relationship.

Reeves crafts Let Me In as an amazing, seamless interweaving of two polar-opposite stories. Abby and Owen’s middle school friendship is sweet and charming. The killing, by both ‘the father’ and by Abby herself is bloody, visceral, and terrifying. The fact that both stories are so compelling and so perfectly brought together makes Let Me In an instant classic.

Reeves also adapted the screenplay, keeping it sparse and letting a few words do the job where lesser screenwriters would have tried (and failed) to do more. And his camera work (or, more to the point, that of cinematographer Greig Fraser) is stunning, particularly in the scenes where ‘the father’ is out hunting his prey.

Smit-McPhee, who was practically the only good thing about The Road, proves his worth again here. The delicate, nuanced performance that he gives as Owen is nothing short of brilliant, and Moretz is even better, playing the dual roles of sweet, quiet Abby and the blood-thirsty monster that she becomes when she’s hungry (or sees blood).

Speaking of which, there is a lot of blood (and more blood… and even more blood), but not a drop of it seems out-of-place or inserted just for effect. Let Me In will take you back to the days when horror meant horror, and not ‘torture porn’. The suspense is real, the script is smart, and the performances are honest, to the point of being heart-breaking.

Hopefully Let Me In reflects a welcome changing of the guard in horror movies, and not just a temporary break from the norm.

5/5 stars