Interview with Let Me In director Matt Reeves
Matt Reeves may have come to prominence by directing the 2008 J.J. Abrams-produced monster movie Cloverfield but his Hollywood career stretches back fifteen years, beginning when he co-wrote Steven Seagal sequel Under Siege 2: Dark Territory. A year later, in 1996, he was in his own dark territory, making his debut as writer-director on the David Schwimmer comedy The Pallbearer. Then came his first collaboration with Abrams, who he’d met when he was 13 at an 8mm short film festival - the long-running television show Felicity, which starred Keri Russell.
After penning brooding crime drama The Yards for director James Gray, who Reeves was at film school with, he now makes his mark with Let Me In. A remake of the 2008 Swedish sensation, Let The Right One In, itself adapted from the novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist, it stars as Kodi Smit-McPhee as Owen, a lonely, bullied schoolboy living in New Mexico who befriends Abby (Kick-Ass’ Chloe Moretz), a girl his own age. Part coming-of-age tale, part horror, as their friendship develops, Owen discovers that Abby has a sensational secret - but one that he seems to accept. Below, Reeves talks about why he’s daring to take on such a beloved classic, how difficult it was to cast and whether he’ll ever make Cloverfield 2.
Q: Are you worried there will be legions of fans of Let The Right One In coming after you?
A: Sure! I mean, look…I feel like I understand why they’d feel that way. The movie is such a beautiful film. It’s a masterpiece and it really connected with collective unconscious in a certain way. It really resonated with people. And so I feel like I totally understand that. I think the reason people might feel that way is that they’re imagining the most cynical version of the film – that it will be a soulless retread or a bastardisation or a Hollywood-izing of the story. The only thing I can say is that I was drawn to the story for very, very personal reasons. It really connected to me and I wanted to honour it as much as I possibly could. So I hope that people will be able to see what a labour of love it’s been for us.
Q: How did the project come about?
A: When the story was brought to me, actually, I was trying to get a very personal movie made – this movie called Invisible Woman. And I brought it to the distribution company, Overture, that eventually got attached to Let Me In in the United States, and they were pursuing the rights. And this was right after Cloverfield had come out, which was January 2008 in the States. And I wanted to make this film. But it was the moment that the contraction really began in the independent film world, and they felt the film was too challenging, a bit too dark and too small for them. So I said, ‘OK, thank you very much.’ And they said, ‘No, wait – we really want to do something with you. We’re pursing the rights to this Swedish film, Let The Right One In. We’ll give you the DVD. Watch it and see if it connects with you.’ I said, ‘Sure, I’ll watch it.’ They gave me one caveat, though, saying I might want to age the kids up for an American audience.
Q: So how did you feel when you watched it?
A: The thing is, this story Invisible Woman is something that had started when J.J. Abrams and I had created this show Felicity. And during that time, we both developed other projects. When J.J. was coming up with the pilot for Alias, I was coming up with a story that was a personal coming-of-age story, and it was a story that eventually became Invisible Woman, when I adapted it from a TV show into a feature. I changed the prism of it and moved it through the eyes of this woman, who’s the mother of the family. But the original story was the story of an 11 year-old boy, and it took place in the late ’70s, early ’80s and the family was on the verge of break-up. They moved into this apartment complex. He had these halting encounters with an 11 year-old girl in the courtyard and they kept running into each other. She was also the product of a single-parent family, so when I saw the movie that night, and I saw the scenes in the courtyard with these two kids, I was like ‘Oh my God! This is exactly the emotional terrain I was hoping to explore in that project.’ Then when I saw what was actually going on, that it was a vampire film, and that [John Ajvide] Lindqvist’s story was so brilliantly using the vampire genre as a metaphor for the pain of adolescence, I was like ‘This is brilliant.’ It totally got under my skin. So I called them the next day and said, ‘Guys, I have two things to say. Number one, I’m not sure you should remake this film because it’s absolutely brilliant. And the other thing is, if you do remake it and you make these kids older, as you’re suggesting might be a good idea, I think you might destroy the story.’ It’s really about the pain of that time of life.
Q: Do you relate to the theme of bullying that’s very strong in the film?
A: Absolutely. I was bullied when I was younger and there is a feeling of helplessness that comes from that. One of the things I think is amazing about the story is the idea of how this 12 year-old kid is so mercilessly bullied, it fosters in him these very, very dark feelings that are completely confusing, that he has no outlet for and he feels lost in his life. His family is in a state of break-up and he feels very alone in his life. And to finally meet up with this person who he connects to, who shares his feelings and that kind of loneliness, is a very powerful story. In a way, you could even take a reading on that story in a novel…it’s obviously not a literal one but it seems subtextual, that she’s almost the physical manifestation of that side of him. She’s the person who could act on all of those feelings that he’s too afraid to act on – the fighting back, and all of that. But yet are all within him being held in.
Q: The original’s director Tomas Alfredson told me that if yours turned out to be an “American hamburger”, then it won’t reflect on his…
A: Ha-ha! Well, that’s exactly right. If it did turn out to be an American hamburger, nothing could ever touch that original film, nothing would change that. And I think in some sort of protective way, there was this feeling early on that this is what would happen. But that film has connected with audiences and people revere it tremendously. And I’m one of them. I think it’s a beautiful film.
Q: It sounds like you see the film in very personal terms?
A: Yes. I’m hoping people will think it’s an interesting film because it’s something that I connected to very personally, and I asked the cast who had not seen it to not watch the original. I said, ‘You have to watch it as soon as we’re done but we need to make our version of this.’ It was the same with my Director of Photography – a very talented young DP named Greig Fraser, who shot Bright Star. He’s from Australia and he hasn’t seen the film. We just connected very personally and creatively and so I felt like we needed to find a way to make our sincere, committed version of this story and to honour it. I tried in adapting the story…there are elements that are drawn from the book, there are elements that are drawn from the film – Lindqvist is the one who did his [screen] adaptation, and he did it brilliantly. And then there are elements that I brought in, to put it in an American landscape, to personalise it.
Q: It’s set in New Mexico, right?
A: It’s set in Los Alamos, New Mexico, which is where the Manhattan Project was. That was inspired, to some degree, by…at the beginning of the book, Lindqvist talks about Blackeberg, which was the city where the story takes place, and it’s where he grew up. It was a planned community. In the United States, we have planned communities too. Suburbia – or Spielburgia, as it was called in the ’80s. He talked about how the town was built up over a relatively short period of time. And you could imagine how all of the inhabitants one day saying ‘Today is the day we move in.’ And all of these people came over bridges and buses. Of course it didn’t happen like that – and gradually the town filled up. But the town really didn’t have the same kind of history that a town that grew over up over a long period of time, like Stockholm, might have. And as a result, there wasn’t a single church and at the end of the chapter, he said, ‘Well, that’s probably why they were so unprepared for the events that were to come.’
Q: Did you see this as an analogy for the American suburbs?
A: Yes, but I also felt like there was a very fundamental difference. We don’t really have faithless suburbs. We have suburbs that are steeped in faith and I thought that would be very interesting given Owen’s situation – he’s being bullied mercilessly and he has these very dark feelings. On the hand one, he’s an innocent, he is 12, and on the other hand, he’s having these very, very dark human impulses. I grew up in the ’80s, when the book was set, and that was Reagan’s America, a time when Reagan was basically talking about the ‘Evil Empire’, that evil was something that was not within us but it was something that was other, that the Soviets were evil and that America was fundamentally good, and that’s what was the best thing about our country. And I thought to be given that message and to be in a community that is steeped in faith would be very difficult for a 12 year-old who had all these feelings because of the life that he was living and was very confused and overwhelmed by it all.
Q: So why New Mexico, of all places?
A: So I was looking for a suburb to set it in, and I originally set it in Colorado. Then the idea of New Mexico came up because there were these tax incentives. Then someone suggested Los Alamos and I thought that was incredibly interesting because not only was it a planned community that sprouted up all at once but it sprouted up for a very unusual purpose. When I was trying to set the film, I originally set it in Colorado…now, the writer of Cloverfield is a guy named Drew Goddard, who is a huge fan of the original film. We were talking about it and I was saying I wanted to set it in this kind of context. I’d thought even to some degree about Columbine. So I thought of setting it in Colorado. But I didn’t want to make it that overt. He said, ‘Well Colorado is a good place. That’s where I went to college.’ And then when I ended up going to Los Alamos, I looked online because I wanted to see what the middle school and the high school were like. And it said, ‘Notable alumni – Drew Goddard.’ So I called him up and said, ‘Drew this is crazy. I can’t believe it. Not only did you go to school in Colorado, you actually grew up in Los Alamos. I’m thinking of setting the film there. What do you think?’ And he said, ‘Oh, God! That’s my childhood. That sounds good to me.’ Then he said something I thought was amazing, that really stuck with me. He said, ‘One thing that people don’t know about Los Alamos’ – because people always talk about how there may be aliens there hidden in silos – ‘is that it has the highest IQ per capita but it also has the highest number of churches per capita, and it so shows that people are struggling with what’s going on.’ So there’s this dichotomy in the community and it reflects a dichotomy in people. So I thought, ‘Well, this is very apt.’ None of that will be very overt, all the Reagan-America stuff is certainly part of the context of the film.
Q: So did it feel like a change of gear from Cloverfield?
A: It was. Cloverfield was all about freneticism. It was all about panic. The concept was to be in the middle of an event that was developing that you didn’t have enough perspective on to even understand – and the terror of that. This obviously is quite different. It’s a much more deliberate, dread-filled piece, with the anticipation of what might come, and then also something that was quite, quite intimate. The most important thing about this film to me was that relationship and finding those kids and working with them to develop a relationship so that you would communicate something about the way they connected on screen. So that was different – but actually much more like my TV work, to be honest with you. Cloverfield was a huge departure for me. One of the things J.J. always said when I asked ‘Why me for this film?’ was ‘Well, anybody could come in and do the action side to it but I know you’re going to try and ground it in something that feels real to you. As crazy as all of it may seem, I know there may be an integrity to that aspect of the film because that’s what you care about – the way people react.’ So that quiet intimacy is something I’ve always loved. I love to watch two actors relating to each other. It was really fun for me to be able to get back to that. And to have material that was so rich from Lindqvist’s story, because that relationship is so extraordinary.
Q: Was it also good that after Cloverfield, Let Me In is a smaller-scale film that’s not so effects-heavy?
A: Yes, it’s very intimate. There actually are a number of effects but the directive is for all the special effects to look as if we didn’t do anything. So I’m hoping that you won’t have the sense that we did anything.
Q: What is your feeling towards remakes?
A: My feeling about it is that it’s really a case-by-case situation. When people have a feeling about remakes that’s negative, it has a lot to do with soulless retreads of things, where things were done purely to exploit the story without any passion put into either the recreation or the re-imagining of aspects. There wasn’t a passionate commitment to the film, it was merely like an exercise. And you end up not having any of the resonance come out from that story. And I completely understand that and I share that. When I see films like that, it’s very disheartening. If you see any movie that’s made in that kind of mode, it’s very discouraging. And there’s this feeling that Hollywood is always looking for a story they can exploit, and frankly that’s true. There wouldn’t be remakes if there weren’t producers and studios who felt ‘Oh, here’s a really interesting story and we can sell this to a larger audience and we have a chance to make money.’ It is, after all, the movie business. But I think it comes down to how those projects are made and whether or not there’s a commitment and passion about the story. And when you see passion behind the story, you can get wonderful remakes. John Carpenter’s The Thing is a fantastic movie, and I love the original. But passion is the key. If there’s a passion there, and that can find expression, then I think those films can be very, very interesting, because very often they’re not made passionately and they’re very depressing.
Q: How well known is the Swedish original in the States?
A: I think within certain segments its extremely well known. We went to Comic-Con, which started as a genre festival and comic books. And it’s grown. It’s deal is primarily that but all kinds of movies go there. So we went there, and I was very excited but also very nervous. I showed some scenes and it went incredibly well. But it was very interesting. I knew a lot of that audience would know the film, and they did. And, as there must be in the UK, there was a cynicism about what the film will be. And it was very gratifying that the people who saw the clips were very, very excited about the film. These were fans of the original and it was because they saw it wasn’t that cynical approach. I hope that when people see the whole film, they will continue to feel that way. But, yes, it’s very well known in certain circles and then other circles who have not heard of it at all. And those are people who may be less passionate about film. I think there’s a certain segment of genre enthusiasts and film cineastes, who know the movie and love the movie. Certainly all of the critics know it. It was a very, very lauded film here –and people who love genre film know what an incredibly unique take it was on the vampire story.
Q: A word on Chloe and Kodi, your young co-stars. What made you cast them?
A: Well, the thing about it is, there’s nothing more important in the film than that relationship. I said at the beginning if we couldn’t find the right kids we were doomed, and we shouldn’t make the movie then. When people thought of the film cynically, they thought in the original film, those children were so wonderful together, you could never recreate that. And the goal was not to recreate that. It was to create something else between two other kids that could resonate in its own way. And the only way to do that was to find two extraordinary actors. I thought ‘How the heck am I going to do that?’ There was a sequence where I wanted Owen to react after discovering what she was. He is someone so cut off from the world. He’s bullied mercilessly. He doesn’t really have friends. He’s cut off from his family because of the difficulties that they’re going through with the break-up of the marriage. And so to connect with this one person in the world, and find solace in her, and then to see this very dark glimpse into what she is, would be a horrifying experience for him. And so I wanted him in this inarticulate way to try and reach out to his father, who in our films is actually not even ever seen. The mother is with him, it’s a single-parent family, and he ends up calling his father. And I was inspired by this scene in Rosemary’s Baby, where Mia Farrow is on the payphone and essentially she’s having a nervous breakdown. And once I wrote this scene, which was this version of it in our story, I thought ‘How am I going to find a 12 year-old who can really hold a scene like this? This is an emotionally complex scene and I’m not going to cut to the father. I’m just going to have cameras on this character.’
Q: So what happened then?
A: Then Kodi came in. He read the scene and I was blown away. He was not pushing, was just completely authentic and real. I just thought he was extraordinary. I hadn’t seen The Road, I couldn’t see The Road. The movie wasn’t out yet, and [John] Hillcoat wasn’t even finished with it yet, and because of what was going on in the post-production of the film, he was not able to share anything with me. So I had to go on my experience with Kodi, which was extraordinary. I had the same experience with Chloe. Kick-Ass hadn’t come out and it didn’t have a distributor. I talked to John Hillcoat and he said great things about Kodi, and similarly I talked to Matthew Vaughn and he raved about Chloe but it was all through the audition process.
Q: So you must’ve been delighted when you finally saw both films?
A: What’s really interesting is that they give really different performances in this. It’s a real testament to how incredibly talented they are. They’re really extraordinary. The movie is an adult story. Although they’re 12 years old, that story is very emotionally complex. And the idea that you relate to and connect to these characters and they are the age that they’re at, and that these actors can pull that off, is really remarkable.
Q: There’s talk of a Cloverfield 2 and also a Final Destination film for you. Are those things likely to happen?
A: No, the Final Destination film…my VFX Supervisor, a very talented guy named Brad Parker, he was up for that film. The Cloverfield thing I think is on hold at the moment because I’ve been involved in this and J.J. has been involved in Super 8. And Drew Goddard, who wrote Cloverfield, is now writing a movie for Steven Spielberg, and he also directed his first film – he wrote a movie with Joss Whedon, which Joss produced and he directed, called Cabin In The Woods. So we’ve all been working hard on these projects, and been passionately involved with them. And when we find the time, and have that right idea, it would be really fun to do Cloverfield again. I think it would be a matter of finding an idea that was worth doing. We’ll see.
LET ME IN opens in cinemas nationwide across Ireland on Friday 5th November
Story by Mike | 09:00 | Wednesday 3rd November 2010 | Movie
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