Matt Reeves talks 'Let Me In'
Let Me In isn't your typical vampire film. Instead, it's a beautiful coming of age tale. It's a love story in the fashion of Romeo and Juliet, something the film pays a nice homage to. Even with all the bloodshed and violence involved here, it manages to stay both sweet and heartwarming, especially during the interactions of the young boy Owen and the vamp Abby. Rom-coms could take note on how to have a heart from this Swedish adaptation.
This is also Matt Reeves follow-up to the much-loved Cloverfield, and he's managed to top that film. Here Reeves never plaints in broad strokes, nails grey areas, and somehow achieves a level of cinematic beauty without ever being distracting. Reeves doesn't consider this to be a remake and simply a re-adaptation, and there's enough here to make it stand on its own.
DVD Talk: Being a re-adaptation, can you talk about the challenges of making a film that plays into the same story beats that previous film did, and yet not making a remake?
Matt Reeves: After watching the movie and initially saying to the people who brought it to me that I didn't necessarily think they should do a remake, I was so drawn to the coming-of-age story that I kind of became obsessed with it. This was all about a year before the film came out. I read the novel and I saw how faithful the coming-of-age story was to what they did in the movie and I realized that Lindqvist himself did the adaptation for Tomas Alfredson. I guess, I was so connected to that coming-of-age story I actually reached out to Lindvist and said to him, "I know that you know about the idea that they're might be a remake and I have really been drawn to it not because it's an amazing genre story, which it is, but because I was very moved by the coming-of-age story." He wrote back to me and said he was excited I was involved because he loved Cloverfield and how he liked I was drawn to it for personal reasons because it was a story from his childhood. At that point, I felt a responsibility.
In trying to do the adaptation, I wanted to find ways to remain very true to the details and the shape of their relationship, but also find a way to bring some of my own personal memories and my own personal context of growing up in the Regan era and being a kid at that time. There was so much specificity culturally to being Swedish at that time and I knew that's why the book was so powerful because of that authenticity. I wanted to find a way to authentically, not fetishistically, do an eighties American movie that reminded me of details of my childhood and contextualize it an American way.
I wanted to take the story--while being true to it and faith to it--I wanted to change the point-of-view slightly to even more of Owen's view. If you truly put all of the subplots from the novel in the movie and gave them the full weight it'd be like a ten hour miniseries, and I knew I couldn't do that in a two hour movie. I wanted to in telling the coming-of-age story use the subplots, like Virginia, who has this whole tragic subplot with her boyfriend, I wanted to instead use that character's life to be someone that Owen sees in a Rear Window-esque way that illuminates the coming-of-age. She represents the world of adults and his first glimpse of sexuality. He sees two people fighting that probably reminds him of his own parents fighting and he's drawn to the world of adulthood, but also afraid of it.
I also wanted to take certain elements from the book that weren't necessarily in Alfredson's film, like The Policeman. I wanted to use him in a way to heighten the Romeo and Juliet relationship that Owen and Abby have. I saw him as Tommy Lee Jones' character in No Country for Old Men, where he feels like he's seen everything, but not this. In the eighties, there was a lot of talk of satanism and the satanic panic, and I thought that'd be a way of him relating to this. When you peel the layers back the story is so much about humanity.
On the one hand, it was very faithful. And on the other hand, it was trying to find a way of making it personal, to change the point of view slightly, to bring new elements, and when I wrote to Lindqvist that the film was getting more and more into Owen's point of view and that Virginia was going to be a different type of character, he said he was holding out hope that he'd see Virginia suck her own blood, like she did in the book. It never made it into the film he did with Alfredson. Even though I knew I was changing her character of what she represented in the story, I also thought it was a great horror conceit: A vampire that's had a blood transfusion would try to suck her own blood out. I thought that was fascinating and cool.
My cast hadn't seen the film, my DP hadn't seen the film, and I felt it was really important that none of them watch it and that we make this movie as if it's its own thing. We made it as a labor of love. It's not like we sat out there trying to copy anything. We wanted to be faithful to the story and that's what led us. I felt if we could do that then I felt like we would have a chance of doing something worthwhile.
DVD Talk: When it comes to The Policeman, would you say he's the only innocent one in the film?
Matt Reeves: I totally agree. One of the things I loved about the character is that he's the guy grappling with the morality of the story, and yet he functions in a way...
DVD Talk: He's very empathetic.
Matt Reeves: That was the reason why I cast Elias. We had worked together before and I knew his film work. In The Thin Red Line, he gives an amazingly emotionally tortured performance. I just know him personally that he's a very warm and soulful person, and I felt if you had this person who was trying to understand what was going on that you would empathize with him. Even though he has very little dialog, he's a good guy and kind of tragic. That to me was a comment on really what the situation was. (Spoiler Alert) In his final scene you're in a way rooting for Owen and Abby, and yet the situation is completely tragic and disastrous. There's this guy, as you said hasn't done anything sort of evil that you've seen, is caught up in it. He talked about the way he imagined the character being a ghost. When he said to me the character was a ghost and he described what that meant it was like he knew something that had happened to him and he was somehow trying to uncover the mystery by following the threads. Literally as he's walking down the hallway, despite knowing what he is about to face, he has to go down that hallway to face his death because he's going to discover exactly what happened to him. (End Spoiler) That's the kind of thinking that is from an actor that is amazing.
It doesn't play into the narrative at all, but it says everything about he's emotionally playing the character. Anyone who watches the movie isn't going to get that, but when he describes it, it makes total sense emotionally. It made me think of when I heard DeNiro talking about playing Travis Bickle as a crab. I hadn't seen Taxi Driver, so I was like, "What?" But he described it that he never steps forward and always steps to the left or to the right in the way a crab moves in a timid way. There's something about working with actors like Elias that is such a pleasure, because they bring whole new levels.
DVD Talk: With the relationship between Abby and The Policeman there seems to be a very subtle religious subtext there. He says Jesus a few times and she's referred to as pure evil, is that religious clashing between the two intentional?
Matt Reeves: Yeah, although the idea would be that by the end that they don't fulfill their traditional roles in a sense. She does evil acts, but it's hard to say she's pure evil. She's also got qualities that you relate to, you feel bad for her, and that it's a burden that she doesn't have a choice. But that doesn't change that what she does is inexcusable and is evil. And The Policeman is this sad and soulful guy trying to understand how all this could be happening and he's looking for answers, and religion may be somewhere if you can imagine what his life is like outside of this.
(Spoiler Alert) When he meets his ending it seems like a completely unjustifiable and horrible thing, and I thought that moment where he reaches out his hand to Owen becomes the fork in the road. It's a heartbreaking thing and you understand it. A part of you says, it's important that she survives because she's the one person Owen connects to. On the other hand, it is a very dark choice. I wanted him to not just go along, but to actually make a choice. That's what we really tried to do with that moment, which is a tragic moment for all of them. It's a tragedy for Owen, The Policeman, and an ongoing tragedy that Abby keeps going through. That I thought was kind of a cool thing, but I love what you're saying. I did weirdly think that he's like Max Von Sydow in The Exorcist, where he's on this troubled journey. It's cool that you related to it that way.
DVD Talk: It's also a sad moment because it does make Abby a monster. She kills an innocent, but also sad and warm guy.
Matt Reeves: Sure. I agree with you and I cant really disagree with you because it's a completely valid interpretation. I don't think it's divorced from anything that's in the movie. It's a horrendous thing when she kills and this guy is truly innocent, and that I thought made the movie even more morally ambiguous (Spoiler Over).
DVD Talk: When it comes to Owen, do you consider him a disturbed kid?
Matt Reeves: Yeah, absolutely. How couldn't he be? He's got no outlet for all the rage he feels. Your heart goes out for him, but he also has these very dark impulses. In the book, you almost get the sense that Oscar is on the verge of growing up to become a serial killer. He's obsessed with serial killers. You get at it though a way that's very heartbreaking that you know that all of it stems from the brutality he's subjected to day after day. He's isolated and has no one to turn to. In a way, the story is not overtly obvious about this at all, but I had a reading in reading Lindqvist book that Abby was in a way sub-textually a manifestation of Owen's rage and dark side, in the way that those actions could actually be made real instead of being fantasy.
In a way, their romance was almost a romance between Oscar and his darker feelings. Once you succumb to your darker feelings you become a slave to them. I read Lindqvist story in that way, but I also read it being about love. There's so many different ways you can look at that story, but that was something I sometimes thought of: Abby being a version of Owen, but a version unleashed.
DVD Talk: When it comes to The Father, there's this sweet subtle childlike nature to him, despite his actions. There's a great scene where you see him smile from listening to David Bowie and it's pretty sad when you see that Abby doesn't even care over what he's excited about.
Matt Reeves: And he was fascinated because he had never really seen a walkman at that point and he was really excited by it. In some of the other takes he literally took the headphones off and offered it to her like, "This is really cool, look at this!," and it was exactly what you're saying about this very childlike thing that Jenkins was doing, which I loved. In particular, there is the idea right in the beginning that he sort of met up with Abby when he was Owen's age and he is still that age in a way. The idea that he misspells "Sorry" on his notes at the beginning is about him living this pain life that he lived.
What I love from the book is the idea that she is not a 250-year-old woman inside of this body, but she was attacked when she was twelve-years old and has lived as someone who's stuck at that emotional development for hundreds of years. What I like about Jenkins and what he was doing was the idea the he had grown physically older, but somehow because of his relationship with her he had remained emotionally stunted. There's something tragic about their relationship, because if he was still a boy you wonder if the tenderness between them would still exist. That boy is still inside of him but as he grows it's as if a gulf grows between the two of them because suddenly he wasn't a child anymore, and how could they relate? To me, it was particularly tragic and I loved what Jenkins was doing.
DVD Talk: For my last question, how meticulous are you when it comes to planning your shots? And being as beautiful as the film is, how do you stay invisible as a filmmaker?
Matt Reeves: Well, what I like to do is storyboard a lot of stuff. Greg Fraser, my cinematographer, and I will walk with stand-ins and he had a digital camera that actually had a place on it to take the anamorphic lenses we were using and we would stage some of the scenes in advance. We would always come with a plan, but the thing that I like to do that is very important not just working with kids, but especially working with kids, is when you get to the set you have to have your plan ready and are ready to abandon that plan. The ideas that really matter are the ones that have vitality at the moment you're shooting. If you have a plan you always know you have a fallback point, but when things happen on the set that is when you're getting magic.
I try to have a plan I can let go of and try to be invisible by, I don't know. I try not to do anything that feels too self conscious. I like the sense of it being restrained, letting the actors do what they do, and letting there be a level of simplicity to what we're doing. That was sort of the idea even with the car crash, there is meant to be a level of restraint to all of that. I wanted it to be simplistic and I didn't want to cutaway to all the kinetic things. I wanted you to go through an experience with the characters. What I'm always really interested in doing is finding a way to be intimate with the characters and to go through an experience with them.
Let Me In is now in theaters.
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