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Paige & Calvin are heading out for a weekend getaway in the country, reluctantly allowing Calvin's younger sister Mandy to bring along her boyfriend, Tristan. Tristan's a jerk, who hooked up with Mandy after a one night stand, and for some reason needs to get out of the city. Unfortunately for them, a mass murderer known as The Tree Surgeon is lurking about. His schtick is that he hacks up his victims and leaves their remains tied to trees. Given Tristan's mysterious past, what else is he hiding from the group?
Oh boy, another slasher that takes place in the woods! You'd think people this day and age would stay out of places like this, but no. DON'T LET HIM IN is the brainchild of Kelly Smith, who prior to making this film had cut his teeth behind the camera by doing suspense shorts. For his feature-length debut, Kelly has tapped the slow-burner type of film in the vein of WHEN A STRANGER CALLS. Ultimately, is imitation the sincerest form of flattery?
Smith did good in going the slow-burner route, offering up a tense atmosphere through his shots and character interactions that eventually leads into the good stuff. After getting the initial character development of our protagonists out of the way (and learning how much of a jerk boyfriends from one night stands can be), the film turns up the unease, leading up to your typical campfire scene involving scary stories, when suddenly we're thrown your stranger in distress who may or may not be hiding more than what they seem. Helping things out is the quality of the acting from the participants. The standout of the group would be Sam Hazeldine, who plays the injured mysterious stranger who you eventually get the feeling that the guy's not all there. This of course is intended to throw suspicion on the guy as The Tree Surgeon. And therein lies the problem with the film.
Being that Smith took inspiration from a lot of 70s slashers and psychological thrillers, there's a lot of stuff in the film that you've seen before in others. The isolation, the shady characters, the stranger that comes along asking for help, etc. This would all be fine if Smith found a way to mix it up and present it in his own unique way. Unfortunately, that's not the case. Things don't get much better once the film hits its midway point, as you're led along this path, building up tension and mystery along the way, but ultimately there's not much to effectively reel in the audience after that.
Also, there are some serious lapses in logic by characters that ruins the tension in places and threatens to ruin the entire buildup. Take the constable at the beginning of the film, who advises our four protagonists of the killer, but then goes about his business as if everything's hunky dory. Then there's Shawn, who arrives at the cabin with a rather nasty-looking gash in his side, but in less time than you'd think he's on his feet as if nothing really happened. Also, when you get down to it, none of the protagonists are people that you'd root for. Paige and Calvin aren't the happiest of couples, and Mandy is a ditzy skank while Tristan is the one you're supposed to be suspicious of. So much for rooting for the "good guys".
It's unfortunate that the film turned out the way it did, since Smith seemed to have some good ideas and inspiration for his first film. The atmosphere was there, as was a whodunit with multiple suspects. But a breakdown in the storytelling coupled with stuff we've all seen before makes DON'T LET HIM IN a film that's a "been there, done that" moment.
Video: Presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, the film looks pretty good in spite of the indie origins. Smith went with a desaturated look that's kept consistent throughout the film. There are some instances of noisy shadows and blacks and a few day scenes where the picture looks kind of blown out, but overall the film looks clean with adequate detail.
Audio: The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is appropriate for the film, featuring clear and distortion-free dialogue with the appropriate punch for the heavier-hitting sounds. It's not going to contend with bigger budgeted films, but it does the trick.
First up is an audio commentary we get an audio commentary with co-writer/producer/director Kelly Smith, co-writer Chris Andrews and co-producer Mike Mindel. Really, if you enjoyed the film (which I didn't), you'll enjoy this commentary.
Following that is a feature-length Behind The Scenes featurette creatively titled "Behind The Scenes of Don't Let Him In". In it, we get the origins of the film (basically when Smith was laid off from cutting negatives), Smith's inspirations for the screenplay (in his words, a hybrid of 70s slashers and British psychological thrillers), production, casting and more. While it mainly consists of Smith doing the talking head interview with a stack of DVDs and books behind him (including the ALIEN Quadrilogy!), it's a detailed and interesting look at a film that's more interesting than the film itself.
The Making Of The Visual Effects is a brief look at the CG effects used in the film such as adding blood to hands and wounds, adding fog to a scene, corrections, etc. It's pretty standard stuff that isn't so much a making of but rather an overview of what was done.
Rounding things up is the film's trailer.
Smith tries to put a spin on the slasher theme, but ultimately DON'T LET HIM IN feels more derivative than anything with the typical slasher characters who aren't the least bit likeable and leaves nothing to the imagination when it comes to the whodunit part. Ultimately, there are a few positives when it comes to the quality of the acting and the sense of unease with the isolation of the characters in the setting, but it's not enough to make it as interesting as Smith had hoped.