Remaking a beloved film can be a risky proposition. Just ask the guys who remade “Planet of the Apes” or “Psycho”. And if Tim Burton and Gus Van Zant have trouble pulling those off, just imagine how nervous director Matt Reeves was remaking the more recent international hit, Tomas Alfredson’s “Let the Right One In” into “Let Me In”, which has its highly-anticipated debut this week. While it might be an obscure Swedish horror film to some, since its release in 2008 Let the Right One In has become a cult classic among the fanboys. (It also won the Founders Award for Best Narrative Feature at the 2008 Tribeca Film Festival.)
However, any misgivings Reeves might have had going into the project were assuaged once he read the original novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist. It was a story to which he immediately related and one which he understood to be a love story at its core; one not wholly unlike the play that his film’s main character Owen is reading for school, Romeo and Juliet.
We were delighted to sit down with Reeves this week and discuss the risks of remaking a film, casting his young leads (Chloe Moretz as Abby and Kodi Smit-McPhee as Owen), and how he unexpectedly ended up relating more to the story than he anticipated.
Tribeca: Whenever a filmmaker remakes a popular film, they’re going to be under some fire. Was this something that concerned you going into “Let Me In”?
Matt Reeves: Yeah, of course. I saw “Let The Right One In” in January of 2008, right as Cloverfield came out. I was at a distributor about another project I was trying to get made. They asked me to look at Alfedson’s film because they were interested in remaking it. They weren’t so interested in the film I was bringing to them. I said, “I don’t know that I’m really that interested in doing a remake.” Then I watched the movie, and I was totally blown away. I literally called them up the next morning and said, “You know, that is a great movie. I don’t know that you need to remake it.” They said, “Yeah, but we really want an opportunity for it to get to a larger audience because not everyone will see a foreign-language film.” All this was even before the original had even come out.
Then I read John Lindkvist’s novel, and I really fell in love with the story. I wondered if there was somewhere new to take this. And so, without in any way trying to step on the toes of the original, I began to think about how to translate it to an American landscape.
Tribeca: What was it about Lindqvist’s book that inspired you?
MR: Well, I saw the book was really about Lindqvist’s own childhood. He grew up in Sweden in the ’80s around the same time I grew up in the U.S. And I wondered if there was a way to build on that concept. So I embarked on a screenplay but, again, this was all before the acclaim of the first movie. Then when the original came out in the United States in October 2008, by which time I had already finished my first draft, I thought, “Oh my gosh, what have I done?”
Tribeca: Panic set in?
MR: Momentarily. Then I thought, well, it’s a great movie, of course people are going to love it. I had to remember to just keep my head down and remember that I’m a fan and I love this story. It was a labor of love. We weren’t making a big budget retread. This is a Hammer Film.
Tribeca: Did you have any contact with Lindqvist during the process of writing the screenplay?
MR: I actually wrote to him and explained why I wanted to make the movie. I wrote that not only is it a great genre story—which it is—but more so because I connected to the coming-of-age story which is at the heart of the book.
He actually wrote back, and he was very kind. He wrote that he was actually excited when he heard that I would be making the film because he really liked “Cloverfield”. He said, it was a fresh spin on a very old tale, which was just what he was trying to do with the vampire myth in Let the Right One In. He was happy that I got the personal side of the story, because it really was a tale of his childhood.
Tribeca: So, you bonded?
MR: Yeah, we bonded. He was very supportive throughout. He offered to help while I was adapting the script, to call him if I had any questions, which I took him up on. He was a very generous resource. I went to SXSW and spoke about the movie right after we stopped shooting. There were a lot of skeptics there, and I was answering some questions on a panel. [Lindqvist] sent me an e-mail, and it said, “You know, I had faith in you in the beginning, and hearing you speak I have faith still.” So, I hope he likes the movie.
Tribeca: Let Me In is not strictly a horror movie. The horror is there, obviously, but like Mark Romanek’s “Never Let Me Go”, the genre elements are very integrated into the film. Your film certainly has its share of blood and gore, but if you think about it, it’s really a love story.
A major example of this is Abby’s guardian, played by Richard Jenkins. His actions, no matter how horrific, are born out of a deep sense of love for Abby. Even the villain of the movie, the bully Kenny (Dylan Minnette), seems to carry the scars of not having been loved enough.
MR: Absolutely. While all these characters are doing these terrible things, there’s an attempt to understand the humanity. And I do think that’s true for the bully, too. And that’s why I cast Dylan Minnette. It was hard casting that role because I didn’t want someone who was one-note. I mean, he was certainly cruel, and I know that people will hate him. But the cruelty was stemming from some level of pain. You wonder, what is wrong with this kid?
Tribeca: And Owen is reading the iconic love story of all time throughout the movie.
MR: Exactly. That’s in the book, by the way. There are many references to Romeo and Juliet. It’s the perfect metaphor for Abby and Owen’s relationship: an ill-fated love story.
Tribeca: Let’s talk about the casting. The casting of Kodi and Chloe is what really elevates the film.
MR: I agree completely. I always felt the pressure to make this movie worthy of the Lindqvist’s novel. When I found the two of them, I felt relieved. They impressed me in such a deep way. I hadn’t had the opportunity to see “The Road” [Kodi’s first role] or “Kick-Ass” [Chloe’s recent hit film]. Nobody could show them to me, [but] both directors spoke very highly of them. Kodi came in and read the scene from where he was on the phone call with his father. It was a very challenging scene, very emotional. I was worried about it being melodramatic. But he was so real, I was just blown away. Also, the kids in the original were so good, I felt the added pressure to cast actors who were as good.
Tribeca: Were you ever concerned that the subject matter was just too intense for the young actors?
MR: As you mentioned, the horror part of is just contextual. We didn’t focus on that. It was really an adult story and the emotional complexities that falls on two 12-year-olds. Who could do that? Kodi and Chloe did, and that was very exciting to see. They hadn’t had an opportunity to meet before filming started, but I had a feeling they would have chemistry. And during rehearsals they really connected.
Then I ended up shooting all of the jungle gym scenes, which is most of the central arc of their story. I shot those scenes in the first three weeks, because I figured I could shoot them as they were really just meeting each other for the most part and getting closer. And I knew that at the end of those three weeks we’d have the potential that this movie could really be something or we’d be in real trouble. I was very excited at the end of those three weeks.