Let Me In: Interview with director Matt Reeves

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Matt Reeves (Cloverfield) is the director of "Let Me In," the American remake of the Swedish film "Let the Right One In." The film, which stars Chloe Moretz and Kodi Smit-McPhee, is being released by Overture Films on October 1.

“Each of the stories that are so popular now uses the vampire legend in a different way,” observes writer and director, Matt Reeves. “Most often they use it to explore people’s sexual nature. But this story takes the same archetype and uses it to explore something entirely different.” 


Reeves gets involved


Soon after the successful release of his 2008 thriller, Cloverfield, Reeves was approached by Overture to adapt the book into a screenplay for an English-language film set in the U.S. He says he was immediately hooked by a tale that reminded him of his own childhood. “It really touched me. Lindqvist and Tomas Alfredson, who directed the Swedish film, created a powerful metaphor for the turmoil of adolescence.” 


When Hammer acquired the rights to the film, Reeves was even more determined to participate in the project. “I thought it would be extremely exciting to have the film made by Hammer given their historic contributions to the genre,” he says. “I knew I had to find a way to connect to this movie. The people at Overture also loved this project so much that they also wanted to be a part of it and actually ended up partnering with Hammer.” 


After reading the novel, Reeves wrote to author Lindqvist. “I told him I was drawn to the story, but not because it’s a great genre story—which it is,” says the director. “The novel wouldn’t let me go because it reminded me so much of my childhood.” 


Reeves was surprised to learn that Lindqvist was also familiar with his work. “He had seen Cloverfield. He said it struck him as a new twist on a very old tale, and that’s what he was trying to do with Let The Right One In; so when he heard about my interest in doing an American version, he was actually excited


“But upon hearing about my strong personal reaction to the story, he said he became even more excited, because this, it turns out, was the story of his childhood,” continues Reeves. “It was very personal for him, and I completely connected to that. I knew there had to be a way that I could take the essence of his story, and translate it to the American landscape I knew from my youth.” 


Staying true to the original


Let the Right One In already had a passionate international fan base, and Reeves shared their reverence for the source material. “At one point, it was even suggested that we might age the kids up for an American audience,” says Reeves. “But that would have destroyed the story. It’s about this specific time of life. It’s about how difficult it is for a 12-year-old boy who is mercilessly bullied and has no friends. It’s all about the innocence and discovery of that age the juxtaposition of light and dark.” 


Reeves continues, “I was very concerned with finding ways to translate this story from 1980s Sweden to 1980s America—which was Reagan America. The Cold War was still at its height when Ronald Reagan gave his ‘Evil Empire’ speech, and the president was telling the country that evil was something that existed outside of us—the Soviets were evil, but as Americans, we were fundamentally ‘good.’ And I thought to myself, what would it be like for a 12-year-old like Owen, who was harboring all these very dark feelings deep inside, to grow up in that context? It would be terribly confusing.”


Although the filmmakers embraced the supernatural elements of the story, they insisted on making the emotion as realistic as possible. “With a genre film, I think the most exciting thing is being able to smuggle a bigger idea in under the surface,” says Reeves. “I think that’s what makes this story different. It isn’t the usual vampire fantasy; it’s something that I hope people can really relate to.” 


Finding the Right Ones


“In the original Swedish film, the two kids are so wonderful and their relationship is so powerful,” says Reeves. “I knew that if we couldn’t find kids who were capable of that, we shouldn’t make the movie. This is an adult story in many ways. The emotional complexities of the relationship are very mature.” 


Reeves knew it wouldn’t be easy to find a kid who could handle the emotional demands of playing Owen. “When he finally discovers who Abby is, it is absolutely horrifying for him,” he observes. “It sends him reeling and he has nowhere to turn. What 12-year-old could play that?” 


But when 13-year-old Kodi Smit-McPhee came in to audition, the director knew he had found the right actor. “Kodi came in and read that scene,” Reeves says. “He played it totally real and very subtly. By the time he finished reading, I was convinced that he was the one. I was also convinced for the first time that we should and could make the movie—he was just that amazing.” 


Although 12-year-old Chloë Grace Moretz had already appeared in several high-profile films, including (500) Days of Summer and Kick-Ass, Reeves had not seen Moretz’s other work before casting her. 


“All I knew was she had an incredibly interesting quality,” he says. “Chloë can be tough, as anyone who has seen Kick-Ass knows. She also has a tremendous vulnerability. That mix of being very human, but also having an unconquerable desire to survive really comes through. 


“Abby is 12 years old, but she’s been 12 years old for maybe 250 years,” points out Reeves. “She is not a 250-year-old woman who looks like she’s 12. Abby is eternally 12. She has all the innocence of a girl. She also has a primal side, which cannot be stopped. It’s a very difficult situation to be in.”