'Let Me In'-terview: Director Matt Reeves Talks About His Vampiric Masterpiece
High-Def Digest's Drew Taylor has been pretty outspoken on the blog about his love of Matt Reeves' 'Let Me In.' He took what was essentially a new classic, the Swedish vampire story 'Let the Right One In' and did the unthinkable: he made it better. It's sexier, more political, and more emotional. And it's finally out on Blu-ray and DVD this week, so all of you chumps that ignored it when it was in the theater (sorry, no sparkly vampires here) can finally see it for yourselves. Drew Taylor got a chance to talk to the director (who, between this and his work on 'Cloverfield' has established himself as one of the most amazing genre filmmakers working today), and they discussed the movie's subtext, its gender politics, and what it was like being the first new Hammer Film in decades.
HDD: What was your approach to remaking 'Let the Right One In' in terms of the subtext you wanted to emphasize?
Matt Reeves: Well, you know… I don't need to be semi-distracted but I think it's literally the USC Marching Band is playing across the street from my house. That's so weird. I have no idea why. I'm trying to focus my thoughts as they're playing… [he starts humming some marching band song]
You know, that was the whole reason I wanted to make the movie in the first place, was the subtext. What I loved about the story was that it was using the vampire myth to explore the pain of adolescence. I thought it was an original take and a really heartfelt take. And so the subtext was what drove everything. To me, creating Owen's world and trying to tell the story through his point of view and in the depiction of Abby, you know, when Chloe and I were talking, wanting to ground what she was in some kind of reality. You know, as strange as it sounds, the mission was to take this fantasy and make it as real as possible, to ground it in emotions that felt real and to create that level of alienation.
It really mattered to me when, like, I was hiring my production designer, you know, a lot of production designers would come in and say, well, "I imagine that color" and that sort of thing. And there's definitely artistry to that. But my production designer, when he came in to meet with me, he said, "You know I think that in Owen's house his mother got this kind of brief burst of influence after she and her husband split up and then it hit her how she really felt and the house fell to hell after that." And I knew exactly what he was talking about, I knew what that would look like when it came to the detail of how to realize that. But I realized he was talking about the space as occupied by the people who lived there and affected by their emotions. So everything was about that subtext.
I also tried to bring out some of the subtext of the time, this idea of the Reagan era, but what all that was about was creating a context for Owen's story. Because in the story, I mean Oskar in the novel and in the first film and in our's, has these tremendous fantasies of revenge and [original novelist and screenwriter [John Ajvide] Lindqvist grew up in the 80s and I did at the same time, we're about the same age. And in the United States it was really the Reagan Era and there was that Evil Empire speech he was making and I thought, as I was musing about how to adapt it and thinking about it, I thought – What would it be like to be a 12-year-old who is brutally bullied every day and who has these dark thoughts, to be told by adults and the world around him that evil isn't something inside of us, but it's something outside of us. Like the Soviets were supposed to be evil, and Americans were fundamentally good. And I thought that all of this would make him feel like more of an outsider – that he couldn't talk to anyone around him and he wouldn't know how to express his darkest feelings.
And then when she would arrive, it would be someone who could finally understand him. [Pause] Did that answer your question? [laughter]
So was the removal of the neighbor's detective story line an effort to make it more from Owen's point of view?
That's was the whole thing, yeah. I wanted to, as much as possible, change it to be more from his point of view. And in aspects that would affect his story. So the introduction of the policeman… I mean there's a character in the book who is a policeman and that opening sequence is loosely based on a scene that's in the book. But I thought of the policeman, in terms of how he functions in the story, as Fate approaching, ever closer, into the Romeo & Juliet story that is the relationship between Owen and Abby and so I wanted that line to move in even closer.
But everything else is, as much as possible, from his point of view. And I thought – how can I use the neighbors? And my thought was to use them, through his point of view, to highlight the coming of age story, to show the neighbor as his first fascination with sexuality, and all that stuff that goes along with preadolescence and discovering the world of adults around you. It's somehow alluring but also overwhelming and frightening. So I wanted to take the neighbors and shift them, to put them through that prism.
Because, in reading the book (which I loved), the only way to be totally faithful would be to make a very long, what would have had to have been a miniseries. The thrust of it is of course Oskar's story and it's a coming of age story, but many chapters change point of view and follow the neighbors, there's a whole separate story that happens with the father figure, in the book. And all of that would have overshadowed, in a 2 hour movie, the focus that was important to me, which was to take out that coming of age story and make it central to everything.
Now you talk about the sexuality of the movie, and there's a lot of interesting gender stuff in the movie. He's called "little girl" instead of "little piggy."
But then you hold back on one of the big moments from the original, which is the implication that Abby could have, at one point, been a boy. Why would you go so far and then hold back?
I guess because I saw the film before I read the book, and this was all about a year before the film even came out, and I didn't understand that she was once a boy until I read the book. And, again, in terms of trying to focus the story to what you understand, unless I was going to be able to truly give the back-story for that, I felt that it would be something that would just pull you out. I feel like that is a detail that you only really contextualize because you know the story. When I saw it, at least, my experience was I didn't know quite what I was seeing. I thought it was him watching her dress and being fascinated that she was different than him. And that was my interpretation of it.
So when I did this version of the story, I had read the book, and I did know what the back story was, but there was no way, I felt, within the time frame of the movie, to create that part of the story in a way that wouldn't do anything but pull you out. Because it would create an emotional distance where you're thinking about what happened and where did it happen, instead of making it this thing about two kids where, there's an androgyny to that age, and as a kid I was often mistaken for being a girl. And that level of humiliation and confusion is all part of that adolescent moment. But that story point, as it was used in the first film, and as much as I love that movie, I didn't understand what that point was, except in the context as I viewed it, which was a coming of age moment.
So what I did was, I didn't do that shot, because I didn't want that moment to be some strange, left-field moment like "What is that?" But at the same time I did keep the camera on his face so that those people who had read the book and wanted that interpretation, there's nothing in the movie to say that that isn't the case. But, for people who don't know the story, it doesn't pull you out, like "wait a a minute, I'm confused, what was that?" And that was just an emotional decision of mine.
Now can you talk about Michael Giacchino's score and what your approach was for that? It seems like one of the more openly gothic elements of the film.
Well, you know, it's interesting because we had worked together on 'Cloverfield,' andnd there's no music in 'Cloverfield,' no score, except for the end, and he was a huge fan of 'Godzilla' movies and when he found out we were doing the movie he was like "Oh my god! I can't wait to score it!" And then I had to say, unfortunately, there's no score. And he said "Oh no! Well, you have to let me write this closing credits overture." Because he had to exorcise some Godzilla-themed demon inside of him. I loved working with him, I thought he was so great.
And so I was really hoping he'd do this. And I showed him and he was really excited about it and one of the things he was really excited about was, even though he was a huge fan of Bernard Hermann and had done so much great darker stuff on 'Lost' in addition to the great stuff for Pixar and all the other big movies he had done, he had never done a horror film. And he was excited about that, and doing the gothic side of things. But what he liked most of all, and what drew me to it, was that it was an emotional story. And a tender story. And we sat down together and he did these sketches and we would talk about them and it was a great experience. I just think he's an amazing composer. And he wanted to bring out that sort of darker side. We talked a lot about [experimental Polish composer Krysztof] Penderecki and we talked about some composer and listened to some music. And then he created what he created, which I thought was just tremendous.
Was there any pressure on your end that this was going to be the first Hammer Horror move in a long time? And how jazzed were you to see that logo at the front of your movie?
I thought that was great! It was very exciting, I mean, to be part of that tradition and the re-launching of that label. To be honest, there wasn't much of a pressure. There was another movie they were making [presumably the straight-to-home-video Hilary Swank vehicle 'The Resident'] and I was worried that the other movie would be the first movie to be the Hammer film. And I just really wanted to be the first one. And I was like "Ah, really? It should be this one!" And I was really excited and they decided it would be.
Can you talk about the car crash sequence? I know on the Blu-ray you talk about being inspired by a similar sequence in 'Dial M for Murder' but were there any specific long shots that you took inspiration from?
Well, it was more… The whole approach was to filter through point of view as much as possible. And that sequence wasn't from Owen's point of view, obviously, but I wanted to do that with the father's point of view, to take you through this experience and bring you down the hill. And it was sort of in the script that way. From one moment, you're watching him get away from these kids and looking at them through the windshield and the tension that he's escaping is right in front of you on camera. And in an instant, suddenly realize that the whole world had turned upside down and this escape was not to be and to take you down that crash with him so you would feel the disorientation and, in the end, the tragedy of it.
There are a lot of long shots in movies that I love. Certainly that long shot in 'Children of Men' is a shot that I probably thought of, although that's so different because it's such an elaborate shot and ours is such a simple shot. But I remember being absolutely blown away by that shot. And this is obviously a much simpler version of that idea. But it was really taken from trying to take you through, in a point of view way, the experience of what the character was going through cinematically.