“Let Me In” director Matt Reeves opens up, explains why he remade “Let the Right One In”
By Sean O’Connell
Hollywoodnews.com: From the minute it was announced that Hollywood planned a remake of Tomas Alfredson’s beloved vampire drama “Let the Right One In,” there has been backlash. More people complained once it was revealed that Matt Reeves, director of the shaky-cam gimmick thriller “Cloverfield,” would be at the helm. How could this guy duplicate the subtle rhythms and moody atmospheres of Alfredson’s masterpiece? And more important, why would he even bother trying?
Then the movie started screening, and the roars of protest turned into cheers and praise. The movie, which opens wide on Friday, Oct. 8, currently has a perfect grade on Rotten Tomatoes. (Not even “Toy Story 3” or “Inception” can boast that.) And one columnist went so far as to say Reeves’ “Let Me In” belongs in the Best Picture discussion.
Flying high on this wave of support, Reeves called from Austin, Texas — where his film opened this year’s Fantastic Fest – to discuss his young cast, his unnerving score, and his motivations for remaking what he calls a “fantastic” film.
Hollywood News: Between Fantastic Fest and Toronto, it seems like a lot of people already have seen the film, even though it doesn’t open until Oct. 8.
It does seem like that. But there do seem to be a lot of people here [in Austin] who haven’t seen it yet. You know, we’re still in that period where a lot of people saw it in Toronto and there have been a lot of press screenings, but there are still people who haven’t seen it, so all along the way, I’m like, “Has everyone seen it yet? Who hasn’t seen it yet?”
HN: It must feel like the slowest birth ever.
It is! We’ve been in labor for weeks! But it’s very different from “Cloverfield,” where everything was so shrouded in secrecy. We couldn’t show the film to anyone. I did show it to friends before we released it, just because we had to be sure that the story was working and that it made sense. But once it was released, it came out – boom – all at once. It was pretty crazy.
HN: Since you brought up “Cloverfield,” tell me something that you learned on that film that helped you as you worked on “Let Me In.”
Oh, wow. Well, I definitely learned about visual effects. I didn’t know anything about them. My favorite stuff that we did in “Cloverfield” are the effects that nobody know are effects. There are obviously key moments where you are like, “Wow, that’s a giant monster” or “The building is exploding.” But there are also other things like helicopters landing at 40th and Park, and we did everything we could to get the permit but they said, “Yeah, no chance.” And, you know, we got the helicopters to land at 40th and Park.
That kind of stuff, a lot of the subtler stuff, is my favorite stuff and it really taught me about the tools. When you think of visual effects, you think of the grand, crazy effects. Then you realize that there are things that you can do that seem very real. There are probably about 10 shots in “Let Me In” that people are going to look at and know they are visual effects because something impossible is happening. But there are more than 200 visual effects in the movie. I’m hoping that on 190 of them, you don’t even know they exist.
HN: When discussing your film, a lot of people ask why it’s even necessary to remake “Let the Right One In,” which works so well on its own. I’ve heard the argument that an Americanized remake will open up John Ajvide Lindqvist’s vampire story to a larger audience. But what were the motivations on your end, and on the studio’s end, for remaking “Let the Right One In?”
I’ll tell you, when the project was brought to me, it was in January 2008, which was when “Cloverfield” came out. The Swedish movie was done but had not been released anywhere. I guess it had been at some very early festivals, but did not come out in the United States for another 10 months, at least. And at the time, I was trying to get a passion project of mine made. It was something I tried to make before “Cloverfield.” I had cast it, and then Naomi Watts – who was my lead – fell out because of a scheduling conflict. So the movie didn’t go and I ended up doing “Cloverfield,” which was its own crazy experience.
When it ended, I thought that would be the perfect time to return to my passion project. I had some success with “Cloverfield” and figured maybe it would be a little easier. But it wasn’t. The project I was trying to get made, which is called “Invisible Woman,” is a script that I wrote that doesn’t really have an overt genre. It’s more of a character piece that has a Hitchcockian paranoia and suspense to it, but it’s a character piece. It turned out that the independent film world collapsed in on itself, and a lot of those companies went out of business.
So I went to Overture and said, “This is this project that I really want to make.” And they said, “Look, we think that the script is terrific. It’s beautifully written. But it’s just too hard to make a movie like this in this environment. This is not the right time for us. But we also love ‘Cloverfield.’ We want to do something with you. And we’re pursuing the rights for this Swedish film called ‘Let the Right One In.’ Why don’t you take it home and watch it?”
Even at the very beginning, I was reluctant. I said, “You know, I’m not necessarily interested in remaking somebody else’s movie. I’m trying to find a way to make my passion project.” But I took it home, and I watched it, and I fell in love with it. I thought that it was amazing. And in particular, I had written something … the way that “Invisible Woman” started was as a television pilot. It changed over the course of turning it from a pilot into a movie. When J.J. [Abrams] and I were doing “Felicity,” we both had to write pilots. He wrote one that became “Alias.” I wrote one that was a coming-of-age story. It was about a family, but it was all through the eyes of an 11-year-old boy, and they moved into this apartment complex. They moved next door to this single-parent family, and there was a daughter who was the boy’s age. And they would have these encounters in the courtyard.
HN: Get out of here.
So I start watching this movie, and I’m like, “What?!” Here is this crazy coming-of-age story. These kids are meeting in a courtyard between these building. Yes, it’s Sweden, but gosh, this is so familiar to me and it was kind of the emotional terrain that I had been dying to do. Then I saw that it was a vampire story, because the studio didn’t tell me anything about it, and I was like, “What the hell?! This is amazing!” I thought it was an incredible story. But I also marveled at the genius of using the genre story to smuggle in a coming-of-age story, and how amazing that was in concept. But I also was envious. I was like, “My gosh, this is probably not why he did it, but it’s exactly the kind of thing that I love because it’s using genre to smuggle in the kind of movie that otherwise you probably would have a very hard time getting made.”
I called them back, not to tell them that I would do it, but to say that I really didn’t think they should remake this movie because it’s fantastic. They said they did not have the rights yet, so I continued to think about the story as I read the novel. It has even more detail about that coming-of-age story, and it got me thinking, “You know, there’s so much about this story. I wonder if you could translate it to an American context. I wonder whether you could keep its essence and do that, but make – essentially – a different interpretation of the very same story. Be very faithful to it, but not make a movie that in any way is trying to usurp, step on the toes of, or replace this other film, which I think is just remarkable. But is there a way that I can find a way to do my own version of this?”
Finally, I wrote to [novelist John Ajvide Lindqvist]. The rights went to Hammer, and all of this was still before the movie came out. Hammer decided to do this with Overture … and I e-mailed Lindqvist. He was very, very kind to me. I said, “Look, I don’t want to do this story because it’s a good genre story, which it is. I was really drawn to it because of the coming-of-age story, which totally resonates with me personally.” And he wrote back and said he actually was excited when he heard I was involved in this because he liked “Cloverfield.” He told me he thought it was a fresh take on what is an incredibly old story, and that’s what he was trying to do with “Let the Right One In.”
I don’t know. I just fell in love with it. And I felt like if I could find this way to honor his story … I felt a responsibility after hearing that from him. And obviously I connected to the story because it reminded me of my experiences. Against my better judgment, I decided to do it.
Now, the flip side of that, or why the studio wanted to remake it, was because they saw an opportunity. I think this happens a lot these days. Executives see a movie that is a really interesting story that has been done in a foreign language and they think, “You know what? If we can put this film in an English-speaking version, then there is an opportunity to take this story and sell it to a wider audience.” For the longest time, I actually resisted the notion of doing this until I finally [gave in].
Then the original movie finally comes out … and it comes out to universal acclaim. And I thought, “Well, of course! This is what I thought of the movie. It’s not surprising that people respond to it in this way.” But it became immediately daunting. I thought, “What have I done?” But I also was so passionately connected to the script and the material at that point that I was like, “Well, I really want to do this.” It’s not a short answer. It’s not a clear answer. But that’s the bumpy, weird journey for me in terms of why I wanted to remake this film.
HN: I am running out of time …
Oh, I’m sorry! I gave you the longest answer for one question!
HN: That’s OK! But I really wanted to touch on the performances you get out of Chloe and Kodi, particularly in that scene where he asks his father if evil exists …
Oh, thank you so much. You know, I saw that scene as being like the one in “Rosemary’s Baby” where she’s on the phone having a nervous breakdown. I wanted to have a reaction to the fact that Chloe was a vampire, you know? What is he going to do? But I wrote that scene and then I thought, “You know what? Who can play that? Nobody is going to be able to play that who is 12 years old.” And Kodi came in and knocked it out of the park. Literally, from that moment forward, I breathed a sigh of relief because I knew that now we could make this movie. He’s incredible. They are both remarkably gifted kids. I am just so lucky.
HN: And I also have to say that Michael Giacchino’s score was so impressive.
Oh my God, I love his score. He did such a beautiful job. And I think what’s so great about it is that it’s in places that are terrifying, and then it is totally tender and emotional. And that is, to me, what I think Lindqvist’s book is. It’s truly a horror story. It has horrific moments. And then it turns on a dime and is tender and heartbreaking. I think that’s the beauty of his story. It’s why I wanted to do the movie.
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