Let Me In is the best English-language vampire movie in ages. Ages. That must not be denied (though with competition like Twilight, we must ask ourselves: is it that big of an achievement). If it suffers, it is only because of 2008's Let the Right One In, the best vampire film, irrespective of language (it's Swedish), in I don't know how long; and, by no coincidence at all, Let Me In just so happens to be its remake.

A damn close remake it is, too: not shot-for-shot, nor line-for-line, but it's a fair claim that virtually every incident and speech from the first movie occurs in this movie, and in pretty much the same order. And yet, they are not the same movie; not even interchangeable. They are as alike and as preciously unique as two great recordings of a brilliant symphony, or two performances of Hamlet: great not only because the underlying material is great, but also because of the particular emphases made by each individual set of artists, which mark the two versions as equally valid, though not "different" as such.

Adapted from John Ajvide Lindqvist's novel and his earlier screenplay by writer-director Matt Reeves (who has credits scattered hither and yon, but he got the job because of Cloverfield), Let Me In takes place in Los Alamos, New Mexico, in the winter of 1983, where a moody 12-year-old boy named Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee) fantasises about stabbings - it's not entirely clear if he sees himself doing the stabbing, or who he imagines is being stabbed, but it spells out in crystal clear letters that Bad News is afoot - when he's not being needlessly bullied or caught in the middle of a rancorous divorce between his absent father and essentially unseen mother (Cara Buono). Meanwhile, Abby (Chloë Grace Moretz) is newly arrived in town with a man purporting to be her father (Richard Jenkins), who spends his nights killing people and draining their blood, because Abby, despite looking to be about Owen's age, is a vampire.

What happens next is quite familiar to anyone who has seen Let the Right One In, or has a good grasp of narrative tropes: these two outcasts, living in the same apartment complex, start to become friends, despite Abby's curt, ominous warning to Owen that they shouldn't; the boy starts to fall in love, while the vampire and her attendant leave a most bloody trail of dead locals in their wake. The chief difference between the two films is not one of plot, but of focus, due almost exclusively to Reeve's emphasis on visceral horror and especially to Moretz's wonderfully attuned performance (she turns in staggeringly more nuanced and mature work here than in Kick-Ass, earlier this year), and it is thus: in the remake, Abby is clearly and above all a murderous beast, whose affection for Owen is hardly a matter of "love" as it is the desire to sculpt him into her next lover/servant, though there's some baseline of tenderness that still comes through.

And that change makes Let Me In more of a brutal horror film than the original - even the title is more threatening and direct. Does this change bring with it a certain lessening of emotional nuance? Yes, which is why I still have to prefer Let the Right One In. But strictly as a horror film, it's hard to find any fault at all with Let Me In, and if we ignore its predecessor, it still has a great deal more psychological depth than virtually anything else marketed as "horror" to an anglophone audience.

There are at least a few good explanations for why this could be the case. For example, there's the matter of national cinematic identity: Swedish movies are, taken as a whole, more concerned with matters psychological. I'm sure that part of it is Reeves's own inclination that the story could do with less stately pacing and more terror. The romantic in me wants to credit the fact that Let Me In is the triumphant return after untold years in the wilderness of Britain's Hammer Film Productions (yes, this is a British film - or at least, a UK/USA co-production), which as we all know made its name back in the late 1950s and most of the 1960s as the home for cutting-edge gore-driven terror, though the company was never able to keep up with the explosion of hyper-violent horror in the wake of 1968's Night of the Living Dead.

Whatever the case, the fact remains: Let Me In is a superlative violent vampire picture, directed by Reeves with an engaging flair for tension and shock that he wasn't really able to exploit in Cloverfield, with its proscriptive "first-person camera" aesthetic. And thanks to a tight script and some really fantastic acting - the kids are both great, but it was Jenkins who kept catching my attention, playing his character's pitch-dark depravity, and the deep love behind it, with all the unassuming intensity we've come to expect from this most unjustly under-appreciated of character actors - the film is a hell of a lot more intelligent than it even needs to be.

Still, for all that it redresses the original with a keen eye and original perspective, there are a lot of problems peppering the movie, some of them nitpicky - there is no reason on Earth that the film had to be set in New Mexico, or in 1983, and these two facts distracted me more than the filmmakers could possibly have intended - some of them minor - Michael Giacchino's score is a stunning disappointment from that greatly talented man - and some of them debilitating. I am primarily thinking in this last case of the cinematography by Greig Fraser, which is technically fine, so far as it goes (and it should be: his big coming-out, Bright Star, was one of the most gloriously handsome films of 2009), but is ruined by post-production tinkering: Let Me In is one of the most garishly excessive "orange 'n teal" movies yet produced in an era when that color combination has become inescapable. For that matter, the handful of moments when the film resorts to CGI are just awful, looking like a video game in the worst possible way. As for the unnecessary "flash-forward" opening, I do not know that it is a particularly egregious problem, but I do know that it irritated me.

But even considering all that, Let Me In works well, and it works well almost constantly. Does it, ultimately, need to exist, in a world where Let the Right One In already staked its claim? No, and virtually no other movie needs to exist, so there. It's far more than a retread, and if the rest of the Halloween season presents another horror made with half as much intelligence, I for one shall consider it an outstanding October, indeed.