Movies

Let Us In: A Fun, if Flawed Alien Invasion

[Contains mild spoilers]

“Let Us In” is a type of movie that doesn’t really get made any more. At a budget of just a few million, it’s not a blockbuster; it’s not even trying to be. It has minimal violence and CGI, and the cast is mostly unknown child actors, aimed squarely at a younger audience. But it’s not a cheap, slapdash B-movie, either – the production values are a notch above that, and they’ve got a legendary horror star in Tobin Bell to anchor the whole thing. These sorts of mid-range features used to be everywhere in the 1980s and 90s, when The Goonies and Stand by Me released in theatres, but they’ve fallen somewhat by the wayside in the age of Netflix. It’s nice to see them making a comeback. 

The premise is a classic one, drawn straight from the annals of conspiracy-theory and paranormal lore. As the film’s intro card explains, people across America have reported sightings of “black-eyed children” – mysterious beings who look like human kids, but with jet-black, hollow eyes. Like vampires in older mythologies, the black-eyed children appear at people’s doorsteps in the middle of the night, asking for entrance – and anyone who grants it is never seen again. It’s a genuinely creepy bit of urban legend, made all the more so by its background in (allegedly) real encounters. If anything, it’s surprising Hollywood hasn’t done more with the concept until now. 

Courtesy of Samuel Goldwyn Films

Coming up against these dark forces are Christopher (O’Neill Monahan) and Emily (Makenzie Moss), two inquisitive kids hoping to win their neighbourhood science fair. They build a strange contraption in the garage, aiming to decipher signals from alien life – but before long, their friends start vanishing, and they spot mysterious figures stalking them everywhere they go. It’s a bold move to cast young kids in a film like this, since child actors can be an extremely mixed bag – some are great (think of Macaulay Culkin in his prime,) but others can be insufferable to watch. Thankfully, though, the gamble pays off, and both of the leads here turn in fine performances. (Although, admittedly, the supporting cast is a bit more… uneven.)

Tobin Bell is also lurking in the background, as the shadowy and mercurial Mr. Munch. By now, of course, he’s cemented his place in horror history with the Saw movies, but his genre bona fides run much deeper than that. Like Peter Cushing and Vincent Price before him, he’s been popping up in one or two horror movies every year for a while now, and he always elevates the material he’s given – whether it’s in The Sandman, Gates of Darkness, or now Let Us In, three very different films indeed. Here, his Mr. Munch is an understated role, only taking center stage in the third act, but Bell makes it work, compelling the audience’s attention as a traumatized, paranoid survivor who knows more than he’s telling. 

As for the black-eyed children themselves, they’re a beautifully simple villain. There’s no frills here, nothing over-the-top; just pale, creepy people in black hoodies, staring in the dark. When they speak, it’s sparse, with probably 90% of their dialogue consisting of the simple question, “Will you let us in?”, delivered in a flat monotone. In fact, it seems like a mistake to have them say anything else – in the film’s last ten minutes, when they start dropping villain lines like “You think you’ll get out alive?,” the air of menace does tend to dissolve a bit. But for most of the film’s runtime, they’re efficient and memorable, like something from a missing episode of The X-Files or Doctor Who.  

There are a few cheesy moments here as well, and some cringe-inducing cases of “adults writing how they think modern kids sound.” (Does anyone still say “that’s lit?” Or talk about “street cred?”). But at just an hour and twenty minutes, things move along so briskly that it’s hard to get too annoyed at the flaws. Director Craig Moss also gives us a lovely little surprise in the film’s last few minutes, hinting at a possible sequel down the road. Let Us In probably won’t scare adult viewers, but that’s not really what it’s designed for – and for a younger audience, who might not be ready for the more advanced horror offerings in theatres, it’s pitched just right. When it comes up in the streaming queue, don’t be afraid to “let it in.”