Let the Right One In was one of the most critically acclaimed genre films of 2009 and it remains one of the most unique vampire stories of this era. The only issue is that it’s a foreign film, so yes American audiences have to read subtitles in order to enjoy the film. So what’s the solution? Obviously it’s to remake the film domestically. It’s not necessarily the right solution, but it’s Hollywood’s solution. It seems that redoing such a critically loved film would be a really daunting task. A small studio got the rights to the film and hired Matt Reeves, the man who brought us the big monster movie Cloverfield, to take on the job. Let Me In hit theaters last year with built-in hate from fans of the original film. Slowly though, as critics and fans saw the movie, the tide began to turn. Yes, it was a remake but it was an extremely well executed one with some ideas and perspective that made the film feel fresh and the story feel new again. It’s not fair to ask if this film is better or worse than the original: it’s different. The core story is the same, based on a novel, but the perspective of the director and the way the story is told is different in this film compared to the original.
After having some time to sit back and take the whole experience in, director Matt Reeves shares his thoughts with me on the film, the novel, the actors, and more just as the Let Me InDVD and Blu-ray release looms.
Culturesmash: How did you originally become involved with the Let the Right One In remake?
Matt Reeves: I actually had just finished Cloverfield and it was January 2008 and there’s a movie that I wrote called the Invisible Wound, which I was trying to make before Cloverfield and Naomi Watts was due to star in the film and she had a scheduling conflict and the movie fell apart at that point and I ended up doing Cloverfield instead and I thought it would be a good moment for me to go right into that movie because of the success of Cloverfield, but it turned out that it’s sort of an independent sort of, it’s darker film a small film and it’s a hard movie to get made right then because a lot of independent film companies started going under and so I took. I knew that Overture wanted to meet with me and I sent them the script and I said “this is what I want to do” and they thought the script was beautifully written but didn’t think that it would, you know, a sure bet for them to make, they didn’t feel comfortable with it, it was too challenging in that market with all of those companies going out of business. So they said “we really like the writing and we love Cloverfield and wed love for you to do another project for us, and I said, “What’s that?”, and they said that they were per suing the rights for a Swedish film that they wanted to remake called Let the Right One In which I’d never heard of and which didn’t come out in the United States until October 2008, about 10 months later. I initially said, “No, I don’t know if I’m interested in a remake” and they said “Well, will you at least watch the movie?” and I watched the movie and I was blown away, I just thought it was such an incredible story and I didn’t know it was even about vampires before I stated watching it and as I was watching it and the scenes were happening between the two kids in the courtyard, I was so taken with it. I’m thinking, wow, how is it that these guys get to make this great coming of age story and I realize the genius of it, which was that it was a vampire story and that they had in essence smuggled in this coming of age story through this vampire metaphor and I thought that was so ingenious and brilliant and so good in fact that when I called the next day to tell them how much I liked the movie, I told them I didn’t think they should remake it, and they said, well we don’t agree and were going to pursue the rights so you think about it please. And as they went off it took them a couple of months to get the rights. It wouldn’t leave my imagination and I decided that I would read the novel and I loved the novel and in reading the novel and seeing so much how the book was about growing up in the 80’s in Sweden at a time when I was growing up in Reagan America I felt well, maybe there’s a way to be very very faithful to this story or this myth but to recontextualize it to try and make it into an American myth and to put it into a world that I remember from growing up at that time. And when that notion started to take hold I decided to write to John Linquist (author of the novel) and when I did to my surprise he was very supportive and he told me that he loved Cloverfield he thought it was a fresh spin on a very old tale that that’s what he tried to do with the vampire story, with Let the Right One In, and said that the most important thing in what I’d written to him was communicating to him how much the coming of age story resonated with me personally because he said that that at its heart was what the story was about and it was the story of his childhood minus vampires. And somehow that felt like encouragement and I felt like ok, I’m going to do this because in a way as strange as it sounds even though it was a remake it was a way to do something that I felt very personally connected to”¦
Culturesmash: When you sat down with the original film and the book, was there something specific that struck you that you really wanted to do differently than the previous movie had done?
Matt Reeves: Well what I knew that I wanted to do, the way I knew that I would approach it, because I was so connected to that coming of age story, I wanted to tell the story as much as possible through Owen’s point of view and I wanted to filter the sub-plots through that perspective as well so that everything would as much as possible comment on his coming of age. I wanted to take those elements and use them in a way to comment on the coming of age, and to use the neighbors as, you see them through Owen’s telescope through his window and let them be characters who illuminate the idea of a kid looking into the world of adults and getting his first glimpses at adult sexuality and being sort of both attracted and frightened by that world around him and try and make as much as possible the movie an experience of his, his loneliness in growing up and try and do that visually as well, do a kind of classical Hitchcockian point of view thing where you really live, you know walk in his shoes sort to speak and then I wanted to do the same thing with the father figure with Richard Jenkins character and I wanted to track with him so that you were to meet him in a way where you would initially feel that he was essentially this horrible person this serial killer and as you peel the layers away you sort of start to feel empathy for him and you feel the tragedy of his character once you understand the context”¦ For that whole sequence where he’s staking out the kid the second time and it’s all spiraled out of control and he tumbles down the hill and he pours the acid on his face, that in my mind as I was coming up with it was borrowing directly from the ideas in Dial M for Murder where they plan Grace Kelly’s murder and you know exactly what’s supposed to happen and your first thought is, Oh my god poor Grace Kelly, but then you see the theme and none of the things that were supposed to happen , happen the right way and you actually find yourself unwittingly siding somewhere in the middle of that scene. With the killer, you think, oh what’s he going to do, and then by the end she stabs him with the scissors and you’ve watched this little short film essentially within the movie that’s kind of a tragedy and I thought well maybe there’s some way to do this and the other piece of course was in casting Richard Jenkins, so in sitting down the thing that was most important to me was in dealing with point of view and the ways in which we enter the world and how the film was constructed through point of view, and then fleshing out sort of taking some details from the book and recontextualize them. Bringing the policeman in and letting him be sort of be the moral conscious of the movie looking into the movie instead of saying you know what could be causing this these horrors, who would do this?, who would pour acid on their face after killing all these kids and what is looking into the face of evil and not comprehending and then the answer to that being an answer that he would never expect you know finding a way that he would have empathy for all of these characters and evil being much more elusive and disturbing than simple white and black”¦ So all those things I was thinking about and lastly I was thinking about how to set it in the era that I remember and the whole idea of Reagan’s evil empire speech came up and I started thinking what would it be like for a 12-year-old boy who was bullied so mercilessly day in and day out. He obviously has dark fantasies dark violent fantasies, what would it be like for him to be growing up in a world where the president is saying that thoughts like that those things which are evil are really not American. They’re the Soviets they’re outside of us they’re not within us. I think that that would make him feel even more isolated and make it harder for him to reach out to anybody and so that’s kind of the process if that makes any sense.
Culturesmash: You said that you were already well into the project when the original film came out here and it was critically acclaimed. Did you find yourself at some point stepping back and reconsidering what you’d done and making some changes based on that acclaim the original film had received?
Matt Reeves: I didn’t make any changes that were based on that. I did step back, you know to take in what was going on and it freaked me out and I thought, oh my gosh is this a terrible mistake? I deliberately made sure that my director of photography when I hired him that he hadn’t seen the movie and I loved his work and we really connected, he loved the story, and that my actors, I specifically asked them not to watch the movie, I didn’t want their performance to be affected by what they saw going on in the film and I wanted us to try to make the movie in a very very sincere way so that it wouldn’t be you know a kind of, I don’t know, reworking or reimagining that was like people making an effort to copy, because I thought that would be soulless , I never would have had any interest in doing that. But the story is very faithful to Linguists’ story and somewhere along the way there are even reports that the movie was a shot by shot remake and that’s absolutely not true, we didn’t do that but there are defiantly scenes and material that is absolutely the same and those dialogue scenes on the jungle gym which are very, very close to Alfredson’s (Tomas Alfredson, director of Let the Right One In) film. They’re also frankly very, very close to what was in Linquist novel and he did the adaptation so that’s a big part of that but there were things they came up with in their adaptation that I loved and I definitely borrowed them in the screen writing process because I thought that they had very elegantly sort of condensed things and done certain things and I tried to do my own changes and refinements with that but it’s a strange amalgam of things that made up the movie. I wasn’t really affected by people’s response to the movie except by the thought that maybe they wouldn’t even give us a chance.
Culturesmash: What were the challenges and advantages of doing a genre film with lead actors that are children?
Matt Reeves: Well to me that was the whole reason for wanting to do it, I mean what I loved was that it was a horror film that was you know, really a coming of age story in the guise of a horror film. I thought it was such an unusual thing to have what is really an adult story, complex emotional story that sat squarely on the shoulders of two 12-year-olds”¦to me that was the most appealing aspect of the story because it was all about the pain of being at that age. To work with actors that age was a new experience for me and it was very exciting. In my mind if we hadn’t found them (Kodi Smit McPhee, Chloe Moretz) then I would have backed out of the movie because I knew the only shot that this movie had was in getting a relationship that people could connect to between those two kids and that meant you had to have extraordinary young actors and when Kodi came in and he read a scene for me I literally was relieved, I thought, oh..now we can make the movie and then I went looking for Chloe and I felt the same way when she came in, and I had this instinct even though I couldn’t have them read together because Kodi was already making another movie in Australia, I had this feeling that they would somehow have a chemistry. I thought that she was such a dynamo that he would be a little blown away by her because she’s such a force of nature and I thought that that was sort of the right dynamic.
Culturesmash: You’ve done a big monster movie with Cloverfield and now you’ve done a sort of a quiet almost cerebral vampire film with children. What would be your next pick for a genre film that you’d like to do?
Matt Reeves: Well I don’t know what genre film it would be, I could say that what I liked about both those films as genre films and what I love about genre films in general is the idea of the monster in either, in both those films is being a metaphor for something else that’s utterly real. I mean the fun of making Cloverfield was to take something that was on the face of it completely absurd and try to find a way to ground it in a anxiety and a panic that to me was totally real and I wanted that to be the guiding sort of principle for everything that we did so we tried to take something that was truly absurd, a giant monster trouncing all over New York and make it feel as real as that crazy idea could feel. That is a very, very exciting experience as a filmmaker; to try and search your feelings in those ways and sort of explore that and this in a very intimate way was very much about this sort of coming of age story and the pain of adolescents and to do a monster movie that was a metaphor for that, that’s very exciting and that’s what I would look for in the next genre film that I do. Which would be in what creative way are you using the genre, in what way are you telling the story that maybe would be a lot harder to tell right now in the American market place because you know if you wanted to make “Let me in” without Vampires, nobody would make the movie right now probably, you know just a painful coming of age story about a kid who’s bullying who gets bullied and the girl who moves in next door, they’d never make that movie
Culturesmash: You know that movie Stand by Me was actually a movie that struck me several times while I was watching this one because of the coming of age aspect.
Matt Reeves: I definitely thought of Stand by Me in fact that was that was one of the things I kept saying to them. I said guys, don’t forget Stand by Me was art. In fact you can make a film that has kids at the center of it that’s still an adult story and ultimately everybody said, well, we do love the story and they let me do it. For me the hope of making genre films is that you can, I guess smuggle something in you know, and that that’s what I’ll look for in whatever the next thing is, that’s why I always love those movies. I mean, when I think of like Bride of Frankenstein I think it’s a very moving story. It’s a funny, quirky interesting compelling wild story but his character is heartbreaking and there is something that’s being explored there that is very human and that’s what really gets me about good horror film, you know they resonate with something under them that’s quite real even though there’s something fantastical about them.
Before you even ask Reeves only said that Cloverfield 2 is in the very early stages and that they haven’t even “gotten the band back together” yet. Let Me In hits shelves on DVD and Blu-Ray February 8, 2011.