Matt Reeves, who breathed new life into the Kaiju genre with his "found footage" take for 2008’s Cloverfield, returns with another off–the-beaten-path take on a horror subgenre in Let Me In, hitting both DVD and Blu-ray today.
Retelling John Ajvide Lindqvist’s 2004 novel, "Let the Right One In" (released in America as "Let Me In"), Reeves offers an American take on the story of a young boy, Owen and his life-altering friendship with his next door neighbor, who, though she looks like a little girl, is revealed to be a vampire.
Reeves spoke with CraveOnline about the film and the reasoning beside some of the changes he made to both the book and the Swedish film version of the story.
CraveOnline: Take me back to your earliest encounter with "Let Me In". When did the project first come your way?
Matt Reeves: I had just finished "Cloverfield" and it was January 2008. "Let the Right One In" didn’t come out until October of 2008, so it was about ten months before and I had never heard of the movie. There was a movie I wrote called "The Invisible Woman" which has been a passion project of mine since long before "Cloverfield". I was taking it around and I went to a lot of distributors and I thought it would be a good moment to read it because I just had some success with "Cloverfield". But it turned out it was a very bad time to try and make a movie like that because independent film was experiencing a real contraction. A lot of companies were going out of business. Picture House and Paramount Vantage were absorbed into Paramount and a lot of companies were falling by the wayside. So I took the script to Overture thinking it was one of the distributors still around that could do this. They said that they loved the writing but that it was too hard in that environment to make the film. It was too challenging. But they said they loved me and loved "Cloverfield" and that they were pursuing the rights to a Swedish film and would I consider that. They said, "at least watch the movie." So I did and I was blown away by it. I called them up the next day and said, "You’re right. The movie’s great and that’s why I don’t think you should be remaking it." They said, "We don’t agree. We think that it’s a great movie, but we’d love to take that movie and bring it to an English-speaking audience." I said, "That’s great, but I don’t really want to be a part of it." They said, "Well, we don’t have the rights. We’re going to go and try to get the rights, so why don’t you think about it and we’ll talk again?" During that time, the coming of age story that’s really at the center of the film so haunted me that I decided that I would read the novel. When I read the novel, I understood how much it must have been about Lindqvist’s childhood and growing up in the 80’s in Sweden. It made me think about how I grew up in the 80’s. We’re about the same age, Lindqvist and I. But with an American upbringing in my case, living in the Reagan era and the notion of an evil empire. I started thinking, "maybe there’s some way I can take this amazing Swedish myth that Lindqvist has created and find a way to recontextualize it and make it an American myth, while still being true to the elements of the story that I loved." So I ended up writing him and he was very, very supportive. He liked "Cloverfield" and he encouraged me to pursue it. He said, "The thing that excites me the most is that you’re writing to me about this because you said that it resonates with you personally and this, aside from the vampires, is the story of my childhood, so that means a lot to me that you have that kind of perspective on my story." So I decided to do it. That’s how it started.
Crave: Do you have a particular background with New Mexico?
Reeves: No. That was actually something that came about, frankly, because of the incentives. There was a great incentive for shooting in New Mexico. I originally set the story in Colorado and, while I don’t have a connection to that either, I saw this kind of Littleton connection. The bullying reminded me about the stories I had heard about the Columbine tragedy. I sort of thought, "Well, is there some way, without being to directly on the nose, to put it in that kind of environment, to kind of isolate it in the mountains where there’s cold and that sort of small town?" So it took awhile to find a place to shoot it. It turned out that Colorado was much more expensive than New Mexico and they said, "Well, why don’t you shoot New Mexico for Colorado?" and I said, "Well, if we’re going to shoot in New Mexico, why don’t we make it New Mexico?" And then the idea of Los Alamos came up. I was thinking about the suburbs and trying to set it in a unique suburb. There are very few suburbs that are as unique as Los Alamos, which sprouted up for a very specific reason in American history which is, of course, the Manhattan Project. I thought, "Well, that’s an interesting background." I wasn’t convinced until I actually went to New Mexico and went to Los Alamos. When I saw it, I said, "Yeah, we should definitely film here."
Crave: It certainly lends itself to some fantastic cinematography.
Reeves: Thank you! I think Greig Fraser is an amazing cinematographer. I loved working with him.
Crave: The other key element to the look is the snow. Was that a very important element for you to keep from the Swedish version?
Reeves: It was because I thought both in the Swedish version and in the novel, there was something metaphorical about the virgin snow and framed against the blood red. I was thinking about this kid who is, on the one hand, very, very innocent and who, on the other, has very, very violent impulses. The idea of exploring humanity in that way made for one of the more powerful aspects of Lindqvist’s story. I didn’t initially think that I had to set it exactly in a snowy place, but there was something about that idea and that metaphor that I thought was so resonate and just necessary to tell the story.
Crave: There are elements of the novel that are only hinted at in the Swedish version of the film and that you elect to remove entirely. Can you talk about the desire to take those out?
Reeves: I assume you’re talking about Abby’s gender? You know, that was something that I felt like, having loved the novel, something that was really strong was Eli’s backstory. When you read the novel, the chapters shift the point of view. You get to inhabit that experience in a way that makes you identify and empathize with every single character in the story. There’s a line that Eli has when Oskar makes her feel like she’s a freak where she says, "Be me a moment." They kiss and he literally experiences her emotions and her feelings, including the moment when he was castrated. It’s a very, very painful and beautiful sequence and I felt like the only way to fully relate to the characters there in the way that the book does is to either make a ten-hour miniseries — which I think, by the way, would be great. That story has not been really pursued in either film and it’s a true, great horror story. Someday someone will do the ten-hour tv version of "Let the Right One In" and that would be interesting to watch as well — but I felt like in a two-hour version of the movie where you’re following Oskar — or, in our version, Owen — that there were elements that, unless you got into the full backstory, would only serve as kind of obstacles. Unless you understand what it means that Eli was a boy, you don’t understand how that relates to the love story. The same thing with Håkan being a pedohile or following the neighbors. Unless you can give those characters a chance to really go into their point of view and follow their developments, I thought that they would be obstacles to identification. What I tried to do as much as possible was focus the story and I took the neighbors and, instead of seeing them on their own which, in the book, is a very moving and tragic story. But unless you have time to devote to that, they’re just figures that you can’t really empathize with. You don’t really know who they are because it’s really a coming of age story. So what I tried to do was to use the perspective of Owen in order to see them. So you look through and see them as they reflect on his coming of age story. You see them through his first thoughts of sensuality and through his telescope and through the window. I wanted to include them as subplot so I could do the one thing that I was interested in doing with the movie which was creating a coming of age story. When I did watch the original film, before I had read the novel, I saw that scar shot in there and I didn’t understand it. I didn’t know if was a castration or any of that. I thought it was a coming of age moment of him being fascinated with her sexuality. I tried to do a version of it where, if you hadn’t read the book, it wouldn’t sort of pull you out but, if you have read the book — because all you get is his gaze — it still allows for that interpretation. There are a lot of things that are not really that I took them out so much as they’re just not explicated at all. Someone who has read the novel can choose to interpret things the way that they are in the novel.
Crave: What’s coming up for you next. I know you were one of the names listed on the short-list for "Superman".
Reeves: Yeah, I don’t know what’s next. That was very flattering to see that. Zack Snyder is obviously doing that now, but one of the really cool things that has happened is that, while the movie may not have taken the box office by storm, we were very well received and it’s exciting that people see what you’ve done and respond to it. So I’ve been getting a lot of interesting scripts, books and projects coming my way. Really, all I’m doing now is reading them. I haven’t chosen what’s next yet, but I do want to make my passion project, "The Invisible woman" somewhere in amongst the next things I do, but I don’t know what the very next project I’m going to do is.
Let Me In is available now on Blu-ray and DVD.