Let The Right One In was one of the most startling vampire films in years, so Matt Reeves faced a challenge making the American remake fresh. Reeves tells us what he kept, what he added, and what had to go.
We listened to you talk about Let Me In at SXSW, and the stigma that is attached to doing a remake of this classic. So how do you feel when the first teaser trailer came out and everyone, including us, said it looked like a shot-for-shot remake?
You know the truth is, it's not a shot-for-shot remake. That trailer is 59 seconds of footage from the story which covers much of the same ground. My director of photography I specifically said, "Please don't see this film." And he hadn't seen it, and he's a brilliant cinematographer, a young guy named Greig Fraser. He shot Bright Star. He's just so talented. I asked the actors not to watch the film. Kodi hadn't seen it, Chloe hadn't seen it, Richard hadn't seen it.
We in no way set out to do a shot-for-shot remake. I'm sure there are shots that look the same, because they are the same circumstances, [but] there are going to be many shots that look different. Listen, you'll be able to do six more of those things [trailer comparisons], I'm sure. But you'll also be able to see the difference. There's no question, though it's very faithful to the story. To me it was fun to see, to be honest with you. Greig was more like "oh no what are they talking about. I haven't even seen the movie!" But the thing is — I think the fun is — I'm very excited about showing people the movie, and seeing how people respond. Some people may hate it, some people may love it. But it's been under wraps for so long, I'm just very proud of what's in it. The whole thing from the beginning was, you can't make this movie without those relationships working. It's the one thing that I cared about. It's a genre film that's really a guise for a coming of age film.
In the first movie adaptation of the book, they do hint at the androgynous aspect of the character Eli. Do you address that as well?
If you've read the book, then you know that when Oskar is watching her undress, what you're seeing is a sign of castration. If you read the book. Which when I saw the movie, I hadn't read the book, and then I read the book and then I understood the whole story, and I thought, "Wow, that's very, very interesting." And there isn't anything in [Let Me In] that is going to change that interpretation. One of the things I like about that particular age and these particular characters is, she is in a way more masculine than he is. And he is, in a way, more feminine than she is. And that's one of the thing about kids that age, we tried to play with that androgyny.
There was a moment in the trailer that looked it was taking place in the pool. Which made me exclaim, "are they remaking the pool scene from the original? How can they do that? Can it be done?" So I wanted to ask you.
You have to have the pool scene. You have to have it, of course. That scene is amazing. The original was done with these gorgeous restrained masters. And they play out very, very deliberately, it's a really beautiful style in which the movie was shot. I loved it. The approach that I wanted to take, I loved the restraint and I think this film has that sort of restraint, and it has a somewhat deliberate pace. But I wanted, as much as possible, because it's a coming-of-age story, because it's what I related to, I wanted the audience to experience through Owen's point of view. I would say it's inspired a little by Hitchcock [films I saw] when I was a kid, which are very point of view driven, and less objective and remote.
While there's a beautiful Scandinavian sensibility of that film. This is an attempt at more POV film making and seeing things the way Owen might see them. We approached the pool scene from his point of view. I hope people see that, actually there's one scene in particular where we really identify with Richard's character [Richard Jenkins, who plays "The Father"]. To me it was inspired by Dial M for Murder, the sequence where they're going to kill Grace Kelly, but it all goes wrong. By the end you find yourself actually identifying with the killer. You feel bad for him by the end, that's kind of the visual approach we tried to take with this film. Very point of view driven.
[Edit: note we actually saw this scene at Comic Con and here is Annalee's description of the incredibly moving footage]
I'm excited to see "The Father's" character fleshed out some more, will that happen in this movie, he's such a mystery?
He is a very interesting character. I can't say that he necessarily occupies more time, it's probably right around the same [as the original]. First of all he's amazing... in terms more detail, we have our own interpretation of him, which is slightly different than the original. But there's not a tremendous amount more because the movie still focused squarely on that love story.
Let's talk about vampire rules in the movie. She's sensitive to light, she hemorrhages. How did you find your rules for your creatures, besides what is stated in the book and the movie?
What's fun about genre stories, to me, is [exploring] how you're using the metaphor, what are you using it for? Obviously there's a whole sexual thing going on in True Blood. And there's a grand, romantic, forbidden thing going on in Twilight. What the [original author] John Lindqvist is doing here, and this is what blew me away, he's doing a vampire story but really what he's doing is smuggling in the story about the pain of adolescents. It's a coming of age story. It's a very sad Romeo and Juliet story under the guise of vampire. And I think that is the fun of it, to me.
How did they use the vampire tropes to explore something more real in this film?
He [Lindqvist] uses the tropes of vampirism to explore something real. That depiction of the pain of that particular time in Oskar's life is very realistic. You don't necessarily think of a vampire film as being very realistic, but this is a very realistic vampire film. The movie doesn't rest on any blown-out FX. It's a very grounded film. Which is unusual for a vampire film. That rule about having to be invited in, that is part of the vampire lore. But what's brilliant about it is that it wasn't just about "this is what happens" [when she isn't invited in], it wasn't purely novelty. He used it to have this moment where she bleeds though all of her pores, but what it's really about is her putting herself in Oskar's hands. The only way that they can bond, because she has the power, is to come into his place, uninvited and suffer the way she does. She puts herself in his hands. If he doesn't invite her in, she could bleed to death. He found a way to put an emotional component in it. I asked him [Lindqvist] about this, I wrote him and said that I had an emotional understanding of this moment but I wanted to understand what it meant to him more. [Lindqvist] said, "to me what it means is that the moment that Oskar sees her [bleed] there's no way that he can ever leave her side. In essence, once she has made herself vulnerable to him, they are forever bonded." It's part of the brilliance of the way he used aspects of the genre to do something different with the story.
How did you use the genre to explore something more real in your film that you thought needed to be told?
I'm very faithful to the story. When I wrote to [Lindqvist] he said that it would be gratifying to see Virginia suck her own blood. Which is something she does in the novel that never made it to the [original] film [but it is in Reeves' version]. Even though the film is from Oskar's point of view, Virginia is in the story in a way that changes his story. It's really about his adolescent period. He's looking into the world of adults and he sees Virginia and it's the beginnings of the feelings of sexuality, and how they fight, and not understanding, it's all about the confusion of being 12. So we've got that in there. It's a pretty creepy scene I think, I hope.
The cats are not in the film. But the truth of the matter is, it had to do with the point of view. And the cat scene is something that Owen wouldn't see. He sees Virginia in a Rear Window-esque complex, and he can see the neighbors. She lives in his complex, but you don't really follow her story without him. So the whole cat scene is something that wouldn't make it, because it's not in his point of view.
What is the attraction to monsters for you?
It's interesting because as a kid, theses are the movies I would have been too scared to see. When I was a kid I saw The Exorcist, and to be honest, I still haven't recovered from that to this day... But it's hard today, to make movies about something that is real, or something personal. The fun of genre movies is you can do something that is about a giant monster that is really about anxiety. Or you could do something about vampirism that is really about coming of age. That is what I love about genre. It's fun to have a giant monster come and destroy New York, but it's also really great to explore panic and anxiety. That's what draws me to genre to treat kind of absurd ideas in a realistic way.
So what's the next pairing of monster and emotion?
I don't know yet. I've been so immersed. Michael Giacino is now doing the music, I'm so immersed in this, I literally can't even say what I want to do next. I can say that I love that idea, and I would love to continue to explore it through genre films. To me the fun is taking something that on the face sounds like fantasy, but treat it like it's utterly real, to explore the real feelings that come out of it. Whatever I'm starting next the movie has to have meaning for me. That is my way in.
When did you know Chloe was the right actor for this vampire role?
I saw a lot of people. I knew when she came in. The same thing happened with Kodi... It's a challenging role. You can't play a vampire, it has to be grounded in reality. I brought in these photographs that I showed her, during the audition process, that were taken by Mary Ellen Mark of a homeless family. The name of the family was ironically the Damm family. At the center of the family there was this 11, 12 year old girl. And she had this look on her face. She looked like she was sort of tough and protecting herself but under it was this tremendous vulnerability. And one of the things I really responded to in Lindqvist novel was this conversation between Eli and Oskar, where he asks, "How old are you really?" And she says, "I'm 12! I really am!" But the thing that she doesn't understand is that she doesn't seem to get any older. The idea being that it's not that she's 250, in a 12-year-old's body, she continues to be stuck at the age of 12 emotionally. The images of this homeless girl to me was that, she is 12 but she's seen things that no 12-year-old should have seen. And the burden of that experience. That was the idea of being a vampire in this story, there's nothing romantic about it. And Chloe totally got it.
Mary Ellen Mark, The Damm Family, Los Angeles, 1987