Before you stone the man for remaking a great film, give him a chance. I was also one of “those people” who loved the first film and didn’t think it should be remade and while talking over the phone to the director of the film, Matt Reeves, I found comfort in the fact that he felt the same way when approaching Let Me In. He knows how great Tomas Alfredson’s film-adaptation of Let the Right One In, but he also knows that the writer of the original novel, John Ajvide Lindqvist has written something so rich that it was worth going back into and reinventing again for both audiences that were possibly too afraid of subtitles to enter the theater the first time around and those who loved the original.
Check out our one on one interview with Reeves and find out how he convinced himself that the film was worth making and then how he succeeded in making a solid American-version of the film below…
So what made you interested in this film in the first place and were you worried about remaking a great film that was never completely a box office success in the US?
Matt Reeves: It’s interesting because the way that I got involved and saw the film, about a year before it came out in the United States, my first response to the people who were showing it to me was, “I’m not sure if you should re-make this movie, cause it’s too good” – and I ended up reading the novel, and I kind of fell in love with it and I saw, you know, John Ajvide Lindqvist who wrote the novel, he also wrote the screenplay for the Swedish film – which I think is just magnificent. And I noticed it was very, very faithful to his book. Because he did the adaptation, and the genius of his adaptation was because the book is like a fantastic Stephen King horror novel, and it changes point of view from chapter to chapter. But a lot of the scenes that ultimately ended up in my version of the film, and also in the Swedish version, are verbatim out of the book.
How do you approach a “remake” or “re-imagining” and did you feel like Lindqvist was on your side?
MR: Many of the scenes that are there are very, very faithfully adapted so I just really relate it to a coming of age story. Reading the novel – though I initially thought I didn’t want to remake the film, something about the story just so spoke to me that I wrote to Lindqvist and I said, “I’m really drawn to doing this, and I want to tell you why. It’s not just because this a fantastic vampire story, but really because it’s a very powerful coming of age tale.” And he wrote back to me and said “I was excited that you were interested in doing this because I actually really like Cloverfield and I felt like I was trying to do something that was an old twist on a new tale, and that’s what Cloverfield was – but it means so much more to me because you have this personal connection.
I felt a kind of responsibility to his story – he said it was the story of his childhood in the e-mail. I thought, well, what would be great is to try and translate that story very thankfully but to an American landscape. He grew up in the same time that I did – in Sweden – and I wanted to find a way to sort of contextualize it. There were very vivid details about Oscar’s childhood in the book, and I wanted to drop some of that in… I really identified with that coming of age story – I wanted to take the other sub plots and use them at the service of the coming of age story.
What were some of the things you knew you wanted to change?
MR: One thing in particular I really wanted to do – in the book, he talks about growing up in a Swedish suburb and because the suburb is a new time, except for the church, so it doesn’t have history, he sort of speculates that that’s why the terrorist people were so unprepared for the evil that was visiting them. I always try to think of the American version of that of the 80’s, I kind of thought of ET and “Spielbergia”, all those movies he made about growing up in the suburbs. And I thought about how the American suburbs wouldn’t be divorced from the idea of faith, there would definitely be churches there. And, in fact, that also was the period of the Reagan era, the period where he made his evil empire speech which I thought was an interesting idea – given that he was talking about evil as something that was outside of us – Soviets were evil but Americans were fun and complete good.
In a religious community and in a community that was reflective of the sort of thought of the Reagan era, I thought it would be very confusing for this boy – who was on the one hand an innocent and very naïve, but on the other hand experiencing incredibly dark, dark thoughts because he was being bullied merciless day after day – and I thought, well, that would be very confusing for him to be growing up in a world like that. Because he would be wondering about himself, is he evil, does he fit in? It would all serve to heighten his isolation – so, anyway, it was trying to draw all of that in and follow instinctively – everything was really meant sort of to follow his coming of age story, even the police investigation, frankly, was about that.
In a way he stands for what’s right even though we’re not cheering for him…
MR: Because he was meant to be – on the one hand, he’s your way into the story, the moral eyes into the story – how can all of these horrible things be happening what does it mean? And of course the journey is the movie, we find out what it means. But the other thing he’s doing is on this trail getting closer to Owen and Abby and ultimately he starts to realize that he’s a threat to their relationship in a kind of ill fated Romeo and Juliet kind of way. So, even that aspect – to serve making their story, their coming of age story and their love story – the center focus of the movie.
The two children appear quite different in your film than in the first, was that something you wanted or was that something that merely happens when recasting?
MR: I think it’s a little bit of a number of things, certainly when you have Cody and Chloe, I chose them specifically because of the way I thought you’d relate to them. When they came in I was so touched by them. Cody has such a beautiful face, but those kids – when we were shooting he was younger, she was younger, and they were just at this moment where they were still at this androgynous phase. And as a kid I was often mistaken for being a girl. And I was definitely bullied and identified with that idea. And that’s part of what drew me to want to do the story. When Cody came in I immediately saw his vulnerability and it seemed to me what I sort of remember from being a kid. It was almost like the kids who would pick on the other kids had a kind of radar for that vulnerability – he had that the moment he came in. He struck me as an outcast.
There were details in the book about him even having trouble controlling his bladder, he’d wet himself. I put some of that in, the bullying. It’s a combination of trying to drop details from the book and the fact that Cody is just a different boy and that I was trying to put in some details of from what I remembered from being bullied and feeling like an outcast myself. If you end up doing something in a way that’s like a committed labor of love, which is the way we made this movie, if the passion is coming through some of his individuality is going to come through. They shouldn’t be exactly the same, even though we meant to be very faithful to the story, we had to find a way to do our version.
You slightly changed the relationship between Abby and “her father” — what made you decide to do that?
MR: In the novel it’s quite different. In the novel, the character that Richard plays has a very, very powerful back story. I knew that with the story being the focus of the kids, that the back story – didn’t really have a way to get into the story without throwing off the balance of the love story. What I wanted to do, and certainly when I first watched the movie before I read the novel, I had an interpretation because it was ambiguous in Alfredson’s film – what their relationship was. But there did seem to be this implication of a kind of cycle.
That was kind of how I approached it and it’s how it drew Richard to wanting to do the movie. He kept saying to me, the idea of what his life must’ve been like – that it was preferable to spend his life doing what he was doing for her than to be alone or leave her, that suggests not only an incredible bond but a really, really desperate childhood, and that’s’ what got him. That was the way we approached it. Some people have said that makes the movie more cynical, I honestly don’t feel that way. One of the things I feel is that her connection with Richard’s character and her connection with Owen, with Cody, I believe in that connection. I think it’s profound. I think there is true tenderness and feeling and love there, and that they connect through being outsiders. It doesn’t change the fact that the story is incredibly ambiguous – that at the same time she needs to survive, and all of these conditions exist that are really, really desperate.
Your version of Abby, though the same age as in the original, is much younger and more naive, why is that?
MR: A lot of people look at the story and say, well she’s like a 250 women inside of a 12 year olds body. Instead, she is someone who has been 12, stuck at that level of development for 250 years. That means she’s not really any more advanced. In the book, she says “I don’t really understand why I don’t get older” and he says “Well, maybe it’s because you’re 12.” And she says “Are you saying I’m stupid?” And he says, “No, you’re a kid, we’re kids”. She’s become a survivor because she had to. That’s actually what I talked about with Chloe. We were trying to find a real world survivor and I found these photographs of a homeless family, and there was this young girl at the center of it. You could see that she was very vulnerable but on top of it was this real survivor side.
In that way I see Abby’s character – not that she’s outwardly manipulative or even has that kind of dark level – just that she needs to find that way to survive. She doesn’t want to get too close to people because that can lead to tragedy. It’s a very lonely, isolated existence she lives. To me, it’s very sad.
Do you think their will be any backlash with this film coming out so soon after the release of the first remake of the book Let the Right One In which was loved by many?
MR: A lot of people say, “are you worried about the fans?” The truth of the matter is, from the beginning, when it first started the movie hadn’t been embraced in the way that it ended up being embraced and that it is embraced now. And I just knew that I loved it. And that’s why I struggled with the idea of doing it. But when the movie became high profile in its way as it did, I knew immediately that there would be this kind of laser focus on us – probably in a bad way.
But I never felt at all resentful about the fans’ reaction. I understood where it was coming from, I was a fan of the story! I think that when people think of re-makes, the thing that they always sort of have in the forefront of their mind is that most of them are crap. I feel that way too – most remakes are terrible. It only speaks to the passionate feeling that they have for Tomas Alfredson’s film and Lindqvist’s story that they feel protective. I never even questioned that people felt that way – I totally understand why they did, why they still do, because they haven’t seen it. It was my intention from the beginning to do another version of Lindqvist’s story that I felt significantly connected to.
The only way it could be any good was to be committed to it in that way. I tried to block out the fan reaction that was going on because I knew, first of all, why it was there. And second of all I knew that it wouldn’t help me out making the film – I just needed to do something I felt passionately about and hope that at the end of the day we’d make some good decisions. I certainly felt very early on that we’d cast the right kids, and Richard Jenkins, we were so fortunate to get him. I thought, you know what, we have a chance here because the story is so good – it’s doing something worthwhile. But it was never meant to replace or step on the toes of Alfredson’s film – which I love. I think it’s fantastic…. And, frankly, may also even lead back in a reverse engineering kind of way to the original film.
Check out Reeves’ latest film Let Me In in theaters October 1st!