Producer Simon Oakes explains what’s right about ‘Let Me In’
When Let The Right One In was screened at film festivals in early 2008, it quickly built a reputation as a scary, satisfying vampire story that had a major advantage over its bloodsucking competition – namely, that it had substance, too. Upon its theatrical release, it continued to gain attention from genre fans and casual viewers alike, eventually becoming one of the few modern horror films that earned a spot among the classics, or at the very least was good enough to love unconditionally. All of which is why people were perhaps understandably suspicious, if not outraged, when Hammer Films announced that Cloverfield director Matt Reeves would be mounting a remake, to be entitled Let Me In.
On Friday, producer and Hammer Films executive Simon Oakes met in Beverly Hills with a small group of journalists to reassure fans that the ’08 original would not be impugned by Reeves’ 2010 reimagining. Speaking to reporters over a modest spread of bagels and coffee, Oakes revealed a few details about Let Me In, talked about what made Reeves right to direct it, and explained why and how they chose what elements from the first film (and its source material) would make it to the screen in theirs.
Hollywood News: Was there a sense that the public at large is not familiar with Let the Right One In, and that’s why it needed to be remade in an English-language version?
Simon Oakes: That’s a very good question, and the right one to ask. We saw [Let the Right One In] very early; I’m English, I’m European, and I see a lot of pictures coming out of Scandinavia, France and Germany as you can imagine. So we saw it very, very early on and we thought it was astonishing because it was a love story – Stand By Me meets The Exorcist – and we thought it was just special and wonderful. We never in a million years could have guessed it would get the critical acclaim that it did, particularly in the United Kingdom, where it was actually a hit movie. It did great grosses. But at the same time, the reality is 22-23 percent of its entire box office in the U.S. came from one theater. I was always of the view that this was a beautiful story, I knew the original book, which was a lot harder as you guys would know – a lot more risqué if you like, more controversial. But the story was so great, so beautiful, that it should be seen by a bigger audience. So I was always saying to myself, people in Manhattan have seen it, guys like you because it’s in your wheelhouse, in New York, in Chicago, in Chelsea, in Notting Hill, in London. But no one in Glasgow or Edinburgh or Bristol or Idaho or Pittsburgh have seen this film. It’s a story that needs to be seen by a wider audience. Then it came down to [the question], how do you achieve that? By paying homage to the original. Number one, get a very sensitive, smart director [and] we got it in Matt [Reeves]. Frankly, not to muck about the basic tenets of the story, which is important. More than anything else, stay true to the imagery and mystique and the mythology of the original, and set it in the right time as well, not update it in terms of its timing. Set it in that ’79-’81 era, whenever it was.
Hollywood News: So it’s still going to have the Rubik’s cube?
Oakes: Yes, exactly! The Rubik’s cube, which is great. And then, find kids who can stand up to and, I hate to say it, be as good as or better than the wonderful children that were in the original. And, you know, we did do that. It’s quite interesting; had we not done that, it would have been a very difficult thing. Could two kids pull it off with the sort of knowingness that those two children had, that sort of quiet knowingness that Oskar and Abby [Eli] had? Chloe Moretz and Kodi Smit-McPhee are absolutely amazing.
Hollywood News: It was interesting that you found a counterpoint in the Southwest setting in the U.S. to the desolate landscape in the first film. But there’s a quietness in the two leads, which is intriguing about Chloe because she’s known for being a little bolder on screen.
Oakes: Not when you see her in the film. If you think about her in Kick-Ass, of course you’d think that quite naturally. But she has the same stillness, the same quietness, the same control. When it comes to the setting, the outskirts of Stockholm, we thought about that town from nowhere; do you remember the scene in E.T. when suddenly this quiet environment has been shattered, when the government guys come in their suits and suddenly this small little house has got this huge white tunnel they’re all coming in? It’s the juxtaposition of the strangeness of that and the very ordinariness of the home environment that the kids lived in. We wanted to create the same idea, that within this very ordinary Southwest situation, extraordinary things are happening. This girl, this vampire, comes into this world and affects a kid and his daily life and relationship with his peers, or his bullies. We tried to find what that match would be; rather than just setting it in some snowy environment somewhere, we’ll try and place it in that juxtaposition.
Hollywood News: Can you talk about the provocative elements of the original and what adjustments you had to make in adapting it for this version?
Oakes: Without being so pretentious in English, for a start (laughs). But frankly not that much, to be honest with you. If you call it a faithful remake, I think that’s true to say that’s what it is. It’s not a reimagining; the same beats [are there], maybe the scares are a little bit more scary. We haven’t been able to ramp that up quite a lot, obviously, for budgetary reasons. We’ve played a little bit with some of the chronology, without giving too much away. Fundamentally, that’s what. High production values. Tomas Alfredson did a phenomenal job; I have actually no idea what his budget was in Sweden, but I can imagine what it was, so go figure. [We had a] longer shooting period, more coverage, more effects.
Hollywood News: Was there ever any thought to put back in some of the more challenging elements of the book?
Oakes: I think I know what you mean, and absolutely not. I think in the book, it’s very disturbing, the implications, and I think they should be left I the book, which is astonishing. John Ajvide Lindqvist is an amazing writer. I don’t know if you’ve read Handling the Undead, which is the book following this; he’s an original thinker. But I don’t think it actually lends anything to the movie. In fact, it detracts from it. I mean, I think there are implications and suggestions [in the film]; the famous line, “Will you go steady with me?” “I’m not a girl.” Well, that could mean a million things. What does she mean? Does she mean she’s not a girl, she’s a vampire? Does it mean she’s not a girl, she was a girl? Or was a boy? I think you leave ambiguity there. I think also, you don’t talk down and spoon feed the audience that is going to see this movie. You, in a sense, are the bellwether for fanboys and so forth and you’ve had a lot of inbound on this film. And I think to start with, a lot of people were sort of quite negative about this happening because they love the movie so much. Gradually, as Matt came onboard, and Kodi and Chloe, people started to move towards the middle and saying, you know what, this is good, this is great, let’s see what happens, let’s reserve judgment until we see the final product. I think that’s what’s happening now. There’s a bigger audience out there as well who will never see the picture anyway. So I’m not too worried about that.
Hollywood News: What made Matt Reeves the right director for Let Me In?
Oakes: Sometimes in the process of making movies and producing and financing movies, you can get what we call in England, “our knickers in a twist” by having 17 options and going round in circles, going back to the person you thought should do it first. We immediately fell in love with Matt and his take; he loved the original, so we felt that he was going to honor it, which is very important. Secondly, I think there’s something, and I don’t know if he’d like me saying this, quite autobiographical of his own life in the life of Owen, in some respect – where he came from, and his background and so forth. That was important. We didn’t go out to get multiple takes from people, because this movie did not need a “take,” if you know what I mean. It needed someone to say, I love this film, I want to remake this film now, and I want it to be seen by a bigger audience. And I know how I’m going to do it. I have a feel for the material. He’s astonishing. He has a fantastic intellect, a great imagination.
Hollywood News: His pedigree because of Cloverfield has that sort of found footage aesthetic. Was this an opportunity for him, or for you guys to give him a chance to do something different? Or do you find that the movie has an aesthetically-similar approach?
Oakes: It’s a very different aesthetic. At the end of the day, you could make this movie and never use the word “vampire.” You could say this is a love story between two kids. I think an understanding of genre helps, because there are obviously some big set piece/genre moments in it. You know that he’s got the chops to do it. But really, I think it’s because he’s a storyteller, he knows how to tell a story. If you think of Cloverfield and you think of the technical difficulty in maintaining the focus of story in a film like that, the way he shot it, that was brilliant – to be able to do that, to keep us there, to keep us watching and engaged. I think one of Matt’s great qualities is that he’s a genuinely great storyteller.
Hollywood News: When you guys were shooting the action violence and intense stuff, was Matt sort of free to do whatever he wanted or how choreographed was it?
Oakes: He could do what he wanted. I think it is a mistake to sort of manufacturer the scares and stuff. I think the story lends itself to the right type of action in the right type of scares. We have a picture that we are making this year called The Woman in Black, which is a famous novella, and then a play. It’s been on forever. Jane Goldman is writing it for us, who did Kick-Ass and so forth. And when you are dealing with someone like that, which is sort of a classic ghost story, and you’re dealing with the supernatural in a sense, you can sort of get away with more. You can get a better rating for your movie, because there is the suspension of disbelief. When you are dealing with a story like this, which although it is a vampire story, in part, It is so realistic there such a super realism about it. Then you are always going to have a problem with the rating because it just crosses the boundary. If that makes sense to you guys.
Hollywood News: Felicity, which Reeves worked on, was about young people in love, and Cloverfield was a thriller. It seems like this will combine the two.
Oakes: I guess I have to say truthfully, subliminally he must have tipped the boxes in my head and my colleagues. You know, but to be honest, we didn’t think about it in such a drilled out and rational way. I think he understands the audience for the movie and that sort of thing. I think he has a sort of a natural, understanding of what an audience would expect from this film and how to make it accessible to a wider audience.
Hollywood News: What is the audience that you are going for?
Oakes: As big as possible, I think. The fan boy base. The people that you guys interact with on a daily and weekly basis, they will all come and see this movie. They will all come with preconceptions – some good, some bad. Those that are there, anyway. I think this will be an R-rated picture. I’m thinking it’s a pretty young demographic, but we are only at the beginning stage of our marketing, because part of it is marketing it as a love story, a redemptive love story.
Hollywood News: Is there a chance that it might be done PG13 maybe?
Oakes: I don’t know. I mean, we are literally in the first week of post. There are some different rules in the states. The thing about you guys, clearly, is that you’re on the World Wide Web In this room right now. It’s amazing that they would give Kick-Ass a 12. It is unbelievable, where we have a 12-year-old girl using the C-word and cutting people’s heads off. How did that happen? Well, that’s England for you. I think in this country it slightly more difficult to get the rating that you would like to get, but we’ll get there.