Review: Don’t Let Him In (DVD)

2012/01/24 21:33:32 +00:00 | Steph Howard

"Killer in the woods" movies tend to be fairly conventional. Watching movies like Wrong Turn or Just Before Dawn lead you to expect a group of weekend travelers getting warned by a crazed local. They don't listen, get lost in the woods, and start dying one by one. While each film has different characters and death scenes, they follow a similar formula that is rarely deviated from.

Don’t Let Him In attempts to break away from the pattern by bringing some twists and turns that, in theory, would be a much needed change for the subgenre. However, due to shallow characterization, sloppy pacing, and plot holes, all Don’t Let Him In can do is serve as a motivator for future films.

Don’t Let Him In is Kelly Smith’s first full length project as writer and director, though this certainly isn’t his first trip around the block. Being a negative cutter on fifteen films, including The Queen and In Bruges, Smith has been a part of the film industry for years. As a first attempt, Smith shows a lot of promise, and with the nuanced approaches introduced in this film, I feel like horror film writers should take a few notes. Unfortunately, it’s that promise seen within the movie that makes it even more disappointing.

All throughout the movie I was cringing, not because I was scared, but because I was watching someone’s life-dream slipping out of their hands. The entire movie felt like a rough draft, and after watching the behind the scenes feature, I’m convinced that it was just that. Being written in a matter of weeks and filmed at break-neck speed, this film would have benefited from some extensive revision.

All the raw bits were there, but they are so rough you might not notice how brilliant the film could have been if you’re just watching it for fun. There are so many elements within the movie that would have benefited from some extra time and attention. I would love to see this film after the kinks are all worked out because it would be something special. For the time being though, this film is, at best, confusing. I wish I could give a list of things that I would like to see improved, but that would be moving into spoiler territory.

The worst thing a movie can do to its audience is leave them wondering if what they saw was a joke or something to be taken seriously. Most films give you the boundaries through lighting, acting style, even the music. With a film like Dead Alive, you know you’re in for a fun ride within the first few moments because things are over the top and ridiculous. On the other hand, The Clinic, with its bleakness and gut wrenching acting, allows its audience to be comfortable in the film’s uncomfortable atmosphere. We like to know when it’s ok to laugh, when it’s ok to hide behind the tub of popcorn, or grab that box of tissues.

We should never have to feel guilty about laughing at a scene that might have been serious. When a movie makes you feel unsure about its genre, it takes you out of the movie, instead of wondering who the killer is or who is going to die next. Unfortunately, for Don't Let Him In, I found myself laughing at parts I assumed were supposed to be funny, and discovered that the whole movie was supposed to be as serious as a 70's grindhouse era film like The Hills Have Eyes or The Last House on the Left.

The Don’t Let Him In disc includes some fantastic behind the scenes features. You can listen to Kelly Smith tell you about his process, the story behind this film, and you can watch some of the special effects work. There’s also a trailer and movie commentary with Smith, co-writer Chris Andrews, and co-producer Mike Mindel.

I can’t recommend this movie to the casual viewer, because it’s just too rough. However, I would implore any horror filmmaker, writer, director, or industry lover to watch this movie, let it soak in, and learn from it. I hope that Kelly Smith will go on to make more movies, and that he will have a better budget and time frame with which to make them. If he can get the backing, I have no doubt that we will be seeing his name again.

Film Score: 1.5/5    Disc Score: 3/5