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Let Me In - Matt Reeves interview

Matt Reeves directs Let Me In

Interview by Rob Carnevale

DIRECTOR Matt Reeves talks about why he decided to remake Swedish vampire hit Let The Right One In and how he made it slightly different, while remaining faithful to the intentions of John Lindqvist’s acclaimed novel.

He also talks about researching serial killers and toying with audience expectation concerning the motivations of key characters…

Q. In Kodi Smit-McPhee and Chloe Moretz you have two of the most exciting young actors of the moment. Do you feel you lucked out with the chemistry they have?
Matt Reeves: I just wanted to find two young actors who could handle the emotional complexity of the story because it’s an adult story. So, I went looking for Kodi’s character first and I saw a lot of people. I was really concerned because I thought if that relationship doesn’t work, then you have nothing. Kodi came in and he was so authentic that I was immediately relieved. When I found Chloe, Kodi was already back doing another movie in Australia, so he wasn’t available to read with her.

But the truth is, she was great and he was great, and so I liked them both on their own, but I also felt like they would be really good together for some reason. I guess I could just see them together. And they’re both so incredibly talented that they created that chemistry together. The movie wouldn’t work at all without them. So, the most important thing was to find them.

Q. How did you protect the children from some of the more adult material?
Matt Reeves: The thing about it is that you have to relate to the film on a very emotionally complex level, but that all falls on their shoulders. But they’re both incredibly authentic and really talented young performers. So, that was really it. To me, the story reminded me of my childhood, so in that sense it was a story that appealed to me as an adult in my remembrance of childhood. So, they had to convey something emotionally complex in terms of their relationship, in terms of a love story… I mean, you actually feel for their love story and yet they are two 12-year-old kids and I think that’s kind of amazing.

But that’s also the power of John Lindqvist’s story as well. When I wrote to him saying I was interested in doing this story, not because of the great genre story, the great vampire story, but because it so reminds me of my childhood, he wrote back saying: “Well, that means more to me than anything because it’s the story of my childhood… without vampires of course!” So, it makes the movie challenging and interesting in a way. The thing that I really like about it is that it’s an adult story told through the eyes of children. It’s one of the beautiful things about the story and what’s so unique about it.

Q. How did you decide about which scenes to tweak, which to drop, and which to make more sense in your version?
Matt Reeves: It was a strange process. It was very instinctual. When I saw the [original] film [Let The Right One In] I thought it was beautiful and it was about a year before it came out in the US and I’d never heard of it. They asked me about remaking it and I said: “I don’t know that you should remake it because I thought it was just wonderful.” But I so related to that story of the kids, and then I read the novel, and I saw this opportunity to take it somewhere slightly different. Lindqvist grew up in the ‘80s at a time when I was growing up in the United States, so I thought that maybe there was a way to transfer this story into a context that was what I remembered from growing up.

So, there’s a portion of this that’s about personalisation, there’s a portion that’s taking some things from the novel that weren’t actually in the Swedish film, there’s a portion that is very reliant on the novel in terms of how it was adapted as well, because Lindqvist did his own adaptation… a lot of the scenes that are the same in both films are actually verbatim from the book. And then there were some very clever things that he does in the adaptation, I guess from the process of working with Tomas Alfredson [original director] that I thought were very clever, so I wanted to take them. So, it’s this weird thing where it’s sort of personalising, Americanising, taking from the book, taking from the movie and it was all very instinctual, but knowing one thing – that I related to the story as a coming-of-age story and I wanted to take that story and filter it as much as possible in terms of how I shot it and the scenes that I kept through his point of view. It was almost like a classic Hitchcock style… to make you intimately relate to his character, see the world through his eyes, and use even the sub-plots to illuminate his story with Chloe.

Q. Such as?
Matt Reeves: Well, in the novel there are scenes with the neighbour, Virginia, and she and Lacke [in the original] have this whole life and back story that, if we were doing a 10-hour mini-series, would be a great thing to do. And some day, somebody will probably do that and it’ll almost be like one of those great Stephen King series that you see. But for this, knowing that I wanted to do it through his point of view and illuminate coming of age, I took the story and instead of seeing the back story, I turned her into someone that he sees. I turned him into a voyeur so he could look out into the world of adults and get his first glimpses of sexuality, and see these people across the way who were fighting probably in the same way that his parents fought.

Let Me In

So, that was the litmus test. But even the policeman, which was a character who was taken from the book who is not in the Swedish film, he’s the moral eyes. He begins the story… you look at him looking at the face of evil asking what could be causing this – which, of course, the movie is about the slow revelation of what that is, and it’s not what you expect. But really, on another level, he continues to heighten the aspect of the coming-of-age love story, which is he’s fate. He’s coming closer and closer and if they are star crossed lovers, which is also an element that’s taken from the book, you know that he’s threatening that and she’s going to have to leave or something bad is going to have to happen. So, everything was taken with that one thing in mind.

Q. How did you go about deciding on the tone of this one, as compared to the original? Some people say this one’s more sinister…
Matt Reeves: Well, a few people have said to me that this one seems a little bit more horror-based. But what I thought was great about Lindqvist’s conception [in the novel] was that he was finding the metaphor of taking a horror story to describe the horror of growing up. All of that dread that Kodi’s character feels every day when he goes to school… knowing that they’re going to bully him, and when does that come… the movie is very much about waiting – waiting for that next shoe to drop. The horror, for me, is not so much those jump moments. I mean, the few that are there are hopefully exciting and engaging.

But it’s about waiting for the terrible thing that’s going to happen because that’s what his character does, and that’s the way it is in the book. So, it was very important to me that the thing occupied the emotional state of the character and so it drove the love story and the horror. The love story and the horror all come out of the same thing, which is his isolation, his loneliness and the pain of growing up. So, they weren’t really separate and we approached everything as if it were the way he would experience it.

Q. The Richard Jenkins character of The Father in this film is much more fulfilled than in the original. Was that a conscious decision?
Matt Reeves: The thing that I thought about Lindqvist’s book was that he was telling this story about these people who did these horrible things… I mean, Jenkins’ character in the novel is very, very dark, but he never loses empathy for the characters – there’s always humanity. And I wanted to introduce someone who, on the face of it you meet and think he’s a serial killer – and to all intents and purposes he is a serial killer – but then as you peel away the layers you start to see his humanity. So, nothing is what you expect and the power dynamic is different. You think he’s the father and then you start realising that the way she’s relating to him indicates a different relationship that you didn’t quite expect. So, casting Richard was a big part of that. I wanted to find someone who I knew could bring soul to a character who I knew could really put you off. I wanted you to start to feel for him.

So, that was the reason why I did the whole sequence in the car. It was inspired by Hitchcock’s Dial M For Murder, because in Dial M For Murder you know what the murder is supposed to be and you’re waiting for them to kill Grace Kelly, but then step by step none of the things that are supposed to happen do. The interesting thing about Hitchcock does is that by using that he actually gets you to identify with the killer. You start feeling bad for him; you start thinking: “Oh, you’re doing it wrong!” And then suddenly, at the end, she stabs him with the scissors and it’s become this little mini tragedy about that killer. So, I wondered if we could do the same thing with the way we set up the Richard Jenkins character.

Q. Didn’t you also research serial killers for that aspect of it?
Matt Reeves: I did. The whole thing about hiding in the back of cars I actually found about this guy who was hiding outside of Walmarts and somebody went into a Walmart and said: “Is that your car out there?” To which the owner replied: “Yes.” So, the eye-witness said: “Well, somebody has gotten into the back and we’re going to call the police.” And when they did and they caught the guy, it turned out that he’d killed a number of people and that he was a serial killer and this was his method.

So, I thought if we show you the method, then once you see his layers peeled away, and you start to actually hopefully feel for him, you then think you’re going to see one more killing, just like the first, only someone else gets in the car and suddenly there’s two of them and nothing is going the way it’s supposed to go. By the end of it, hopefully, you feel a bit of the tragedy of his character. The last step, then, is when Chloe’s character sees him in the hospital, and he’s completely ravaged, she talks to him and relates to him with a tenderness that at the end speaks to the tenderness that they must have had when they were young. And so that was the journey I wanted to do and a huge part of that was about Chloe and Richard working together and, in particular, about Richard having such soulfulness as an actor.

Kodi Smit-Mcphee in Let Me In

Q. You mentioned writing to Lindqvist… so, has he seen the film and what does he think if so?
Matt Reeves: He has seen the film and, actually, he saw it in London a couple of weeks ago and published this wonderful statement. When we came out on October 2 [in the US], I woke up while we were doing press in New York and found we had a great review in the New York Times, which was really thrilling. But then I checked my email… I knew he was seeing it that week and I was horrified trying to work out what he would think of it. But saying that, he’d been very positive throughout…. along the way, there were little conferences that I did, at places like South By Southwest, where I talked about the film as we shot it. So, he wrote to me saying: “Someone showed me your panel at South By Southwest and I continue to have faith.” So then I started to think: “Gosh, what if he has faith and then I’ve let him down?” But he loved the movie and so when I got that email it meant more to me than anything.

That was the thing I’d been waiting for because it was his story and he said that he felt that the Swedish film was a great Swedish film and this was a great American horror film and he was very moved by it. He said that both this film and the Swedish film made him cry, but in different places, and he felt that the emphasis was in a different place. He was very taken with it. He said that he and his wife watched the premiere of it here [at the Soho Hotel] and then they went and drank a bottle of champagne in the parking lot because it was very fitting. I was very moved by that.

Q. Why have vampire stories become such a phenomenon of late?
Matt Reeves: I think the appeal of them is whatever the secret is under the surface. I think with all great genre stories you have the surface level, which is about what that genre is – a monster movie, or a vampire movie. But what the secret is – what it’s really about – is the thing that makes it really interesting. Obviously, the thing that was exciting about this one is that on the surface it’s a vampire film, but under the surface it’s about coming of age.

Read our review of Let Me In

Read our interview with Kodi Smit-McPhee