One week in the fall of 2014, the Birmingham Mail reported on alleged sightings of a paranormal phenomenon known as black-eyed children. The paper interviewed paranormal investigator Lee Brickley, who said a woman told him she had seen a spooky child whose eyes were "completely black, no iris, no white, nothing". This urban legend then filled the front pages of papers like the Daily Star in the following days. What was just a story that started on an online mailing list would soon be the cause of frenzy. These “sightings” increased, gaining enough interest for director Craig Moss and co-writer Joe Callero to make a supernatural slasher all about the myth.
As Let Us In explains in its opening frame, these creatures resemble children with pale skin and black eyes who can be seen hitchhiking or on doorsteps of residential homes. These hooded figures appear for ten days at a time, where they kidnap teenagers to grow their colony. As they approach their victims, they ask menacingly in an inhuman tone, “Will you let us in?” They can disappear in the blink of an eye and even shapeshift. When news of missing teens begins to hit the cycle, and encounters get too close to home for the film’s main characters, they decide to take matters into their own hands and stop the children with sunken eyes and Alabaster skin for good.
Fittingly, the film has children taking on the leading roles. Makenzie Moss plays Emily, a well-fleshed-out character with trauma in her past. Only in seventh grade, she’s already in therapy. Having witnessed her friend’s death, Emily becomes an easy target of the school bullies as she is blamed for the tragedy. She also blames herself. The 14-year-old actress seems much older, like someone who’s been through a lot, and you can feel the effects of Emily’s trauma on her small shoulders. She’s an outcast whose closest friendship is with another. Chris (O'Neill Monahan), who is suspected to be on the spectrum, doesn’t seem to have any other friends. This, one can assume, is most likely because of his peculiar interests which he shares with Emily. Together, they build a device in the hope of establishing communication with alien life in order to win some sort of science competition (this part of the narrative is roughly explained). Emily carries a strong determination that complements Chris’s more goofy nature. They make a great hero and sidekick duo, and just like the kids from small town Derry who fought Pennywise, they become the saviors of a town tormented.
When the black-eyed kids show up on Emily’s doorstep asking their infamous question, the film hits classic slasher beats. The break-in, the panicked phone call for help, an attempt at escape. The police and her parents aren’t convinced of her story – just something sensationalized from the mind of a child coping with loss. So, when someone close to Chris gets kidnapped, they bring their intuitive minds together to figure out how to stop the hooded villains. This task involves having to meet with “mean Mr. Munch.” Played by Tobin Bell, he’s the one on the block that everyone is afraid of. It’s a classic scenario where kids dare themselves to go onto his property, or to see who would be brave enough to reach his porch. Tormented and misunderstood like Emily, he proves to be helpful as he has first-hand experience with the black-eyed children. It’s wonderful to see Bell outside of the Saw franchise, but he just mumbles along without much to do. It’s a pretty wasted part that also involves a very random and unnecessary twist, but an interaction between him and Chris does warrant a chuckle-worthy reaction.
Let Us In tries to be funny, but its jokes miss more than they hit. How the characters speak seem unnatural at times, especially with the overuse of teen slang. It appears to be attempting to cater to adults who grew up with ‘70s-’80s slashers, but also to children who love teen dramas. Perhaps it’s trying to feel lighter because children are in the lead, but its mix of tones don’t work cohesively. It’s far from the narrative quality of other horror films that involve children, like It, that are actually frightening. However, while the tones don’t mesh, the subgenres of slasher and supernatural do. And while the black-eyed children aren’t the most frightening of antagonists, it’s great that Moss and Callero make their takedown challenging; not making everything seem easy because there are children at the center. Despite all this, as someone who has never heard of this urban legend, Let Us In manages to be an intriguing narrative to explore, but unfortunately also a forgettable one.
Movie Score: 2.5/5