With the imminent release of Let Me In, the American adaptation of the acclaimed supernatural Swedish thriller Let The Right One In, I sat down for a conversation with director Matt Reeves to discuss the ‘Difficult Second Album Syndrome’ and why the 80’s are synonymous with Horror for the Cloverfield director.
While director Matt Reeves first foray into the limelight came as the writer and co-creator of the twenty-something TV dramedy Felicity (with fellow collaborator J.J. Abrams of Star Trek and Lost fame), it wasn’t until the innovative blockbuster Cloverfield hit cinemas that Reeves became a bonafide internet iconoclast using the online media to launch a series of compelling long lead web teasers that eventually secured the film a hefty box office take as well as commercial and critical acclaim. But seemingly without provocation, the internet fandom Reeves deservedly attracted with his innovative monster film, turned negative when news broke that the 44 year old director was to helm a Hollywood remake of the hauntingly serene Swedish horror ‘Let The Right One In’.
“There’s been a lot of cynicism. People think this is going to be some soulless re-tread of what is an essentially a beautiful story’, discloses a talkative Reeves from his editing suit in L.A. where the last few touches are being finalised on his adaptation, subtly re-titled ‘Let Me In’. “And you know, I completely understand it. If I were on the outside, I’d think the very same thing; ‘oh, here comes another one’. People have been burned by so many poor Hollywood remakes, where somebody comes in and bastardises a good story; slams it into a Hollywood version that tries to sex it up… as apposed to being committed to the essence of what made that story worth doing in the first place.”
Released back in 2008 and helmed by Swedish director Tomas Alfredson, ‘Let The Right One In’ was originally adapted for the screen by John Ajvide Lindqvist, directly from his own best selling novel, a mix of vampire mythology and a personal account of his childhood spent in one of Stockholm’s soulless tract community suburbs. Since its release, the Swedish language film has taken over 60 international festival awards, garnered a BAFTA nomination and received massive acclaim from critics and audiences alike. A prime target for a western remake, but as Reeves explains, it wasn’t a case of shooting fish in a barrel but discovering an almost symbiotic connection with Lindqvist’s tale of isolation and adolescent malaise that got him on board.
“I had written a movie before I made Cloverfield called ‘The Invisible Woman’. It was a personal film, more of a drama; kind of a dark film and very challenging. And it was always my intention to do this as my next project, but then I met with this company, an American distributor called ‘Overture Films’ who’d read my script and come back saying that although they loved it, it was too challenging to make at that particular moment, but that they would really like to do something together. They were pursuing the rights to this Swedish film called ‘Let the Right One In’ and thought I might really respond to it. My first reaction was that I’d watch the movie but I wasn’t sure that it was something I’d want to do. So they gave me the DVD and then mentioned the one thing I might want to do is age the kids up for an American audience.
So I watched the movie that night and firstly, I was blown away. I thought the movie was a masterpiece; I just loved it.
When I started watching the movie , I was like ‘Oh my god, this is exactly the kind of emotional terrain I wanted to do with my story’, and as the film progressed, I realised that it was this brilliant genre story, this vampire story and it was much more brilliant than what I was thinking of doing. It was just amazing.
So I called Overture the next day and said ‘Well, I was incredibly affected by the film’. I had two responses. My first was that I’m really not sure you should remake this film cause its fantastic, and then I said, ‘If you do remake it though, and you age up the kids, then you’re destroying the film. Its really about being that age; its about that confusion, the position of innocence, the sort of darker side of humanity and the idea of this kid struggling with his darker impulses when he gets bullied mercilessly, while at the same time, still being an innocent. You lose all of that if the kids are older”.
“I ended up reading the novel after that and I was taken into the story even further, you understand the pain of his boy’s existence and I was so taken with how Lindqvist had used the vampire genre to really tell a story about the pain of adolescence. Lindqvist also talks about this community without a history; this planned community without even a single church.”
“It wouldn’t let me go. I kept thinking that there was sort of an analogy to that kind of community in the U.S., a kind of ‘Spielburbia’, the sort of planned communities you see in Steven Spielberg films from the 80’s. I totally related to that existence, I grew up in that sort of area. I thought about the book taking place in the 80’s and I thought, wow, 80’s America. I grew up in that time and I got bullied; there were just all these things that I related to.”
Having committed himself to adapting the film to an American context, Reeves reveals that the next challenge he faced was no less confronting as the film he was now in charge of was a dark emotive story spun from the fabric of two 12 year old children’s lives, and finding the right cast would be pivotal to grounding the film’s fantasy and horror themes firmly into the drama of tormented adolescence.
“It certainly felt true of the Swedish film and so I needed to have two children who were extraordinary. It’s a very complex story and you don’t usually ask a 12 year old to portray that level of emotional complexity. That was my biggest concern, finding a 12 year old who could play that kind of drama and have it work.”
In fact, after an exhaustive screening process Reeves settled on Chloe Moretz, best known as Hit Girl in the Mathew Vaughn actioner Kick-ass and Australian actor Kodi Smit-McPhee whose previous work included the hard hitting dramas The Road, a tragic post apocalyptic nightmare based on the classic novel by Cormac McCarthy and the Australian film Romulus, My Father which saw Kodi star opposite Eric Banner as the young son of a dysfunctional immigrant family.
“I went and had an interview with Matt Reeves”. Replies a charming and wholly enthusiastic Smit-McPhee when asked about the audition process. “After that I didn’t hear anything for quite a while. Then one day Dad told me they wanted me to come in for a quick audition and shortly after I got the call to say I’d gotten the part. The whole casting was a pretty easy one.”
In fact Reeves reveals that he knew Kodi was right for the role of Owen practically from the first reading.
“At one point I thought if we couldn’t find kids who could do this, we shouldn’t make this movie. I ended up writing a scene where after Owen discovers Abby’s a vampire – and remember she’s the one person in the word he can connect with – to have him be completely reeling, to be so lost and almost on the verge of a nervous breakdown. And I thought that’s what I need, to have Owen reach out and for nobody to be there. And we watch as he falls apart. And I thought to myself, if someone could do that scene then that person should be the character and then I’d know we could do this movie.
And so Kodi came in. I’d seen Romulus, My Father which I thought he was extraordinary in, but he was much younger then. And of course I knew he was Australian so I didn’t now if he’d be able to do the accent. But he came in, spoke with a flawless American accent and he nailed that scene. He was just so real; he is so natural. He’s not in any way like a 12 year old kid actor; he is AN actor! I was so touched by what he did that I was thrilled. I was like ’Oh, it has to be him.’
And as for Smit-McPhee’s motivation in taking on the role of the beleaguered and bullied youth, the young actor reveals a surprising depth of perception toward his character and craft.
“The character itself is what made me want to do the role. He’s pretty emotionally damaged because he is bullied at school, and then he has to come home to his mother who’s passed out on the couch. He really does have to look after himself, a lot like Raymond from ‘Romulus, My Father’.
The whole thing with our version is that it’s more realistic. The whole vampire thing is that you DON’T want to be a vampire. And the bullying scenes are just horrible. I saw them finished and its like your standing right there watching and you’re not able to do anything about it. It’s pretty intense. In fact the bullying scenes are just as bad as the killing ones.”
Slated for an Australian release date of October 14, Reeve’s enthusiasm returns three fold as his anticipation of showing the film to an audience becomes plainly evident.
“After all the cynicism we felt from the internet, we went to Comic Con and showed some clips.” Recalls the director. “And literally the whole room completely turned around. It was such a thrill. We showed them two major sequences and the response was incredibly positive.
I’m excited for people to see it. I think they’ll hopefully be touched again by Lindqvist’s story, put in this context and told with these amazing actors. In that way I’m really proud of the film, not because of what anyone is going to think of this as a movie, but no one who sees it is going to think these actors aren’t simply extraordinary.”
As for Smit-McPhee’s take on the negative spin fans of the original have indulged in “Matt wanted to say something with the movie, maybe a bit more than they did in the original one, and like I’ve said a millions times, give a fresh take on it. I think if they go and see it, they might really like it.”