Director Matt Reeves, seen here on the set of 'Cloverfield' with Lizzy Kaplan, has just finished his new film 'Let Me In'.
Matt Reeves has an unenviable task ahead of him with the release of "Let Me In," his adaptation of John Lindqvist's novel Let The Right One In. Obviously that was filmed (well) just two years ago, and the original was embraced by critics around the world. I don't think it's fair to call what Reeves is doing a "remake," though. He appears to be treating the novel like new source material and building his own take on the story.
He was here in Austin to participate on Scott Weinberg's big giant blow-out horror panel, and as a result, a group of reporters got a little face time with him on the morning of that panel. Early. And this is the conversation Reeves and I had as a result:
Matt Reeves: How are you?
Drew McWeeny: I am good. I’m on festival time, which means three hours of sleep here, two hours of sleep there.
Matt: Are you seeing a lot of interesting things, or..?
Drew: Well, "Kick-Ass" last night.
Matt: How was that? I haven’t seen it.
Drew: We saw the rough cut in December when it was all temp-tracked and when Matthew still had the Superman theme on it and some stuff he was desperate to get. I think he lost the fight with Warner Brothers, though.
Matt: Oh really?
Drew: And they were like, "You know what? We might use that again."
Matt: Oh, because he literally was using these... oh, that’s so great.
Drew: It was amazing. And he desperately wanted the Superman theme. The John Williams Superman theme. And there were a couple other tracks. It’s fine without them, though. His final score’s really good and it pays homage to those without directly referencing them.
Matt: Without being them, yeah.
Drew: Both times we've seen it, Chloe steals the movie. Steals it!
Matt: Yeah, that's what I understand.
Drew: It’s unbelievable. She’s incredible. She has a real gravitas on screen, and I spent a week on set, watching her work.
Matt: Yeah, yeah, she’s amazing right?
Drew: She is. And the fact that her family is so close with her and so supportive on set and so much a part of what she does, I think is... she’s going to keep her head on straight.
Matt: Oh, my God, no question. Yeah. She’s amazing.
Drew: So, listen... I love Peter Lindqvist's novel Let The Right One In.
Matt: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Me, too.
Drew: And when I first saw the film here actually at Fantastic Fest….
Matt: Had you read the novel first or…?
Drew: I had not yet.
Drew: But I had a friend who was from Sweden, and he had been talking it up for six months to a year beforehand. He was like, "The book is incredible, and they’re making a movie. I think the movie might work. I think it might be a good little film."
Matt: Oh that’s so funny. Right, right, right, right.
Drew: So he brought me the book and reading it, I fell in love with the book separately. It’s a very separate entity and has its own appeal. How he emphasized it, it’s a really impressive adaptation for him to do himself.
Matt: Absolutely. Yeah, it was a beautiful script he wrote from his story.
Drew: He took a scalpel to it.
Matt: Well, he did. It’s interesting because I read the book as well. And I loved the book. I think it’s incredible. And the thing about it is is that what I thought was so smart about the way he adapted it was… you know it’s very funny because I was looking at the story of the book and I was like, "Well, what pieces can we bring back in?" Because it was so brilliantly done. I know people refer to him as sort of the Swedish Stephen King and like a Swedish Stephen King if you were to take some of his stories and adapt them fully to a movie.
Drew: Six hours.
Matt: Yeah. Or ten. It would be like a mini-series. Yeah. You’d just go on and on. And in a way, this story if you adapted everything I think would have to be like a mini-series. And that’s sort of the thing about it. I think what he so smartly did was he recognized as the core of the story the coming of age love story. And that Romeo and Juliet story. And there’s all that other stuff in it. I mean it’s an incredible book. It’s horrifying.
Drew: That’s the thing. It’s horrifying on a different level. The personal stuff. I believe you guys have Jenkins playing her caretaker. That role is so different in the book.
Matt: Yes it is.
Drew: His relationship with her is so much more upsetting.
Matt: Yes it is.
Drew: And Jenkins has this... I love Jenkins in comedies. Like I love that the Farrellys kind of broke him as a comedian, but there's that profound sadness about him that when you…
Matt: Yes, that’s exactly why… yeah, it’s so funny because I met him when we were just starting to put it together and he was nominated for "The Visitor". And Overture was involved and they released "The Visitor", so they had this party. He said, "Oh you should come. We’re doing this thing for 'The Visitor,'" and I had just seen "The Visitor" and I thought he was so amazing. And I was actually there with my wife and we were sitting there talking to him and I was writing the script. And he is the most lovely man. And she said, "Did you see his eyes? He should be the guy. He’s so sad. He’s got the saddest eyes." And he does. And that’s exactly the reason that I was drawn to him was because he has that incredibly pained soulful thing. And it’s so funny because he can be incredibly off the wall and ridiculous and funny in those comedies and that’s what I responded to in "The Visitor" is that he’s got an internal life that’s really alive and his eyes bring so much to the idea of what is life, what his burden is like. And so, he to me is such an exciting idea for that, so my wife was right.
Drew: So now you’re done with production correct? Or cinematography?
Matt: Yeah. We just finished a couple of weeks ago, three weeks ago. And I’m only in the first couple weeks of editing, so I was working yesterday, flew in on the red-eye, I'm here today, and then going back so I can get back to work in the editing room.
Matt: So it’s been a whirlwind.
Drew: And how are you feeling after the shoot? Like how do you feel about the…
Matt: I’m very excited. I mean it was a great shoot in that…. the thing that I’m the most excited about is really the cast is great. I mean, Richard Jenkins was amazing as you would think. But also, because one of the things I’ve always worried about was how do you find children who can really do this story justice? And as you know Chloe, you know how talented she is. She’s amazing. And Cody is incredible as well. The two of them blew me away. And so as I’m going into editing and I’m just starting to go through the takes and the beats and all the things, the thing that I am most excited about at the moment is that I feel like they are so soulful and so real and to me the thing that makes the story. You know, when I think of genre films that really draw me in, it’s when you take a story that though it has these sort of absurd elements in a certain way the fantastical, when it gets grounded in a kind of reality that makes that stuff feel utterly real, that’s when I find it really terrifying. And these kids, I mean Cody in particular, he has this thing where he’s just… it’s so funny. He approaches things the way… it wasn’t like working with a kid actor, and Chloe was the same way in terms of… Matthew Vaughn said it to me when we were first casting. It was like, "Well, you know I’ve worked with Robert De Niro. She’s like Robert De Niro." I was like, "What? What are you talking about. She’s 12." And then I met her and I was like, "Oh my God. She is." They both approach things in a very, very grounded real way. And I would often say to Cody, "What would you really do here? What would you do? And he’d go, "Well, being real, I would do this." And I’d be like, "Oh, that’s brilliant. That’s what we should do." So it was really fun to work with them.
Drew: I talked with him when they were promoting "The Road
" and he was with Viggo and I’m glad that in the interview he was with Viggo, because I got to watch their rapport. Viggo is a dad so obviously he has his feelings of being protective anyway towards him. But then as an actor to watch how he treated him, because I’ve seen Viggo with other actors and there’s a language he uses with them and there is a respect he gives them where you get the feeling it’s earned. Like Viggo’s not a guy to give that lightly. And he was treating Cody as an actor and as an adult and as somebody who he spoke with a certain way. But then at the same time, in the middle of the interview, he tickled him.
Matt: Sure. Right, right, right, right.
Drew: It’s that weird thing where you want the childlike part of them. You need them to still be in touch with that, but there’s also a technical language that you can use with them that really changes how you, as a filmmaker, approach your work.
Matt: Sure. Sure. The thing about it is like I tried to… I wanted the set to be as playful as possible. I wanted them to basically feel like it was a place where they could play. And so literally the first thing we did was, you know, me and Chloe and Cody, we went out and went bowling. We’d do all this stuff just so we could have fun. I wanted to create a relationship between the two of them. But when it came to working, they both were… their work ethic... I mean he’s 13. He just turned 13 and she’s 12. I don’t know when her birthday is. Maybe she’s 13 now, but at the time she was 12. And you’ve never seen people who are so committed. And the thing about it was, I remember when I called John Hillcoat because Cody came in and just as Matthew Vaughn had said such glowing things about Chloe, John Hillcoat said to me, "Hire him," and again I didn’t get to see footage from either of these films beforehand, they just came in…
Drew: That’s a leap of faith, man.
Matt: Well, they came in and they auditioned and I was like, really? They were great. And when Cody came in, there was a scene in particular that I’d written… one of the things I wanted to do in adapting the film was to take it sort of even further into the point of view of the boy because I’m very driven sort of by point of view filmmaking. And in broad terms, like in "Cloverfield," people think that means handi-cam, shaky whatever. But it was really about a commitment to a point of view and this is a much more classical restrained style. But I wanted to experience this coming of age story as much as possible through his eyes.
Drew: So you don’t spend a lot of time cutting away to Jenkins. You don’t spend a lot of time cutting away to like the witnesses.
Matt: I try to weave it… I have tried to take the story and as much as possible weave it through his eyes, so you discover as much as you can through his eyes. And so the idea of the courtyard story is that he’s… you know it’s like being at that age and looking out into the adult world around you and being sort of both drawn to it and also terrified of it and being fascinated by it and the sort of sexuality that’s sort of burgeoning that you don’t understand yet. All that kind of stuff. So he sort of meets the world and you meet the world through his eyes. And I knew that there were certain scenes that I had done where I thought, "God, you really need a real actor for this. Not just a great 12-year old kid. You need someone who can play this." And he came in and he did this one scene that was particularly difficult and he just blew me away. I was like, "Oh my God," because you would expect it was a very emotional scene and I thought he was going to come in and sort of do too much, the way that anybody would and not just a kid actor but certainly kids. And he came in and he was so real. And I was like, "What’s going on?" And so I call John Hillcoat and he said to me, "Look, Viggo used to refer to him as our little Montgomery Clift because he just… he’s that good an actor." And that was the thing that I heard time and time again, and in working with him that was absolutely the case. It wasn’t just like working with a terrific kid actor, it was working with a great actor. And I really believe he is. And I think Chloe is too. I mean, it was great. I was really blown away by that part of it because to be able to have them there and have their playful side and to sort of try to explore the sense of their youth. But to have an understanding that seemed so far beyond their years, it’s so weird. Sometimes you had to remind yourself, "Oh, wait, no, no. He’s 13." Because he would talk about things in a way that was very authentic.
Drew: You are a genre fan and you know obviously when you look at "Cloverfield," and.there are things about them that are just innate. You need certain things in giant monster movies. The ones that do it best are the ones my son really gets crazy about. And "Cloverfield" is... whatever else you want to call it, it’s a giant monster movie.
Matt: Indeed it is.
Drew: It absolutely is of the genre in terms of the beats it hits and things it does. My problem with, say, "Twilight" is that I’ve heard people make the argument that "Twilight" is a gateway drug for younger audiences now to discover horror films. I think they go from "Twilight" to "Notting Hill", though. I don’t think they go further into horror because I think the emphasis is certainly not on that.
Drew: Let The Right One In as a novel is a horror novel.
Matt: It sure is. Yeah. It absolutely is. The thing about it is is that for me that is so amazing about that story is the juxtaposition of this sort of tender emotional tender painful coming of age story with true horror. And that’s the thing that creates these crazy stakes as well. You’re not used to seeing the mix in quite that way of tones and it was the thing that I felt was completely intoxicating about the story. And so it’s absolutely the intention of the movie that we made. I’m hoping… like the thing that I kept thinking back to was the idea of the films that scare me the most, the genre films that really... I can’t even... it was so funny because the director of photography and I, at the beginning, I wanted to watch a bunch of movies, and we watched "The Shining", which is one of them, and "The Exorcist" and literally I said to my D.P., "I just have to tell you because we are just getting to know each other, I just hope you don’t lose respect for me because we’re going to watch 'The Exorcist' and it’s one of those movies that I saw when I was way too young and it still has that same effect on me."
Drew: How old were you?
Matt: I was about 10 or 11.
Drew: I was 7.
Matt: Oh really?
Drew: And I was an altar boy.
Matt: Oh my God. Were you freaked out?
Drew: I thought it was a fucking documentary. Like it was so wrong.
Matt: It was wrong.
Drew: But as a result, I have a real respect for what they did because it's so honest and it simply is clinical and…
Matt: I do too. It’s that. It’s exactly that. It’s that it took that naturalistic approach. It was like… it’s funny when you look at it, the things that still… obviously all the stuff when she starts turning into what she turns into, it’s so vividly horrifying. It’s visceral. But even leading up to it, like the stuff that really bothers me still is when she goes to the hospital and they’re doing the tests and they give her the things in her throat.
Drew: Oh that’s awful.
Matt: You’re like, this is unbearable. And the film is filled with such realistic dread and it treats the story in such a… it so respects what the story’s about. It doesn’t try and sort of wink about it. It just says this is what the story is. This happened.
Drew: I’ve always thought the "You’re doing to die up there" scene is one of the most horrifying scenes.
Matt: Horrifying. Horrifying.
Drew: As a kid there’s nothing you fear worse than being humiliated in front of adults.
Matt: Yes, exactly. So that’s one of the things that I thought about in reading the book. The thing that was really, really vivid for me was that the scenes of bullying were so… you know the idea that he wet himself. The idea that he… all of those things that are the most painful for somebody. I mean, it’s so hard to be a 12-year old kid in the first place, and the idea that any of these sort of public humiliations would occur, it would be unbearable. And the idea that they would occur on a daily basis, that you would be humiliated time and time again. And that was one of the things that we really tried to do. I really wanted to, as much as possible, bring out this sort of brutality of that and…
Drew: Kids are animals. They’re animals.
Matt: It was so funny because it’s just about human nature. That’s the thing about the book and the story and the movie as well, that it mixes those tones so beautifully in that there’s a kind of authenticity and a kind of childlike sort of wonder and at the same time they can turn in a second and it’s just human nature to have that light and dark.
Drew: I understand bullying. My last name is McWeeny.
Drew: And I moved a lot.
Matt: So you weren’t bothered at all.
Drew: You make a choice early on how you’re going to handle it.
Drew: Do you laugh? Do you become the kid that can make a joke out of anything or do you become the kid who, first day of school, you know you’re going to have to beat someone’s ass, which is basically just prison life.
Matt: Which were you?
Drew: Just depended on the school.
Matt: I see.
Drew: It depended on when we moved. And there were certainly times where it felt like this isn’t going to go away. It’s just not.
Matt: Right. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Drew: And it’s terrifying. You know, I feel for Oscar and he is... in the book there’s a sense that if she didn’t come along, he’s Dylan Klebold in a few years.
Matt: Absolutely. That was one of the things…
Drew: He’s already got a knife. He’s already thinking about it.
Matt: Yeah, I know. That was the thing is that in his books I believe there’s a reference in one of his later stories to a boy who went sort of… cracked. And basically became Dylan Klebold and murdered these kids. And it’s a reference to Oscar. And so there’s this… I mean that’s the interesting thing I think about the story is that while she is… you know this character that he meets who for all intents and purposes seems to be a real character... at the same time there’s no question that whether you want to take it literally or not, she is a manifestation of his rage.
Drew: She had to come along.
Matt: Yeah. He basically is having a romance with his rage and loneliness and all his painful feelings and she is the manifestation of that and if she hadn’t come along, yeah I think…. I mean what would you do if you were humiliated like that day after day? He turns inward and he was turning inward and then he meets her and she is… she enacts all the things he fantasizes about.
Drew: She’s the monster so he doesn’t have to be.
Matt: Yeah, exactly. And then what’s so great about the story is, it doesn’t change the fact that what’s so great about the story is the horror still remains horrifying. So it isn’t as if there is a pleasure in seeing the bullies get their comeuppance but it doesn’t lose the fact that it’s also horrific. And that there’s a consequence for everything that he goes through. It’s one thing to fantasize about something, and then to have those things actually happen and have that horror still be just as terrible as it actually would be, is really… it just creates a very ambiguous reaction to things. You look at it and you think, okay well can he really be happy that this is happening? And he’s not. He’s horrified. He’s terrified. And so that sort of mixture of tones to me is great because it’s very potent. It’s that idea of how you grapple with the different feelings that everybody has. A lot of people were… it’s interesting because I think that people picked up on this idea that early on I had talked about taking the story and doing an American context. I used the word Americanization and there was a whole thing about, "Oh, Americanize the film means make it big and stupid and do all of these things."
But what I really meant was putting an American context and there’s a great chapter at the beginning of the book where he talks about … Blackburg is where he grew up and he talks about how Blackburg was this planned community and everything was planned and he can imagine it being built and then one day they all move into the city. And he talks about… of course it didn’t happen that way, but it felt like it could have in essence, and he says at the end, the thing that really got me, was he said, well you know the one thing about this place was there wasn’t a single church in the whole town. Not a single church, which is probably why they were so unprepared for what was about to happen. And you’re like, oh my God. I’ve got to keep going. But that was the Swedish context and one of the things for me was that’s the small town thing and the idea of the planned communities that came up after World War II and beyond, all of that was very American, but the part without God was not. And so what does that mean and what the American context was about those kinds of details and the specificity of that. What would make it an American story while keeping the essence of what this story is? What would the transplant be? And the idea of the 80’s is when it was set in Sweden and there was the whole nuclear proliferation, all that kind of stuff. But in our case that was going on, but it was really the Evil Empire and the idea of being a kid growing up in that time, having these dark feelings and yet knowing that you were being told that those feelings were other by the government saying, you know, the evil is out there. Not in us. And yet, he’s got these feelings that he doesn’t know what to do with. That’s the thing that really gets me about the story is if you’re really feeling those feelings, where do you fit in in the world? And what does that say about you? And it’s that ambiguity of the story that I think is so exciting about it, so anyway.
Drew: Last question... as a horror nerd, how excited are you that Hammer Films are involved?
Matt: Very, very excited. It’s very exciting. It’s so cool. I know that there’s another film, too. I hope we’ll be the first of the new Hammer films. We’ll see.
Drew: There’s something great about that name.
Drew: Means a lot to horror fans.
Matt: Absolutely, yeah. And especially to vampire films, too. I remember seeing those films as a kid on TV, you know? And seeing like the Christopher Lee stuff and being freaked out.
Drew: For the 4-year old, we have monster books that are different monsters that we read every night at bedtime. And he loves them, but in the Dracula book we have to go past Christopher Lee. Christopher Lee bothers him.
Matt: I completely understand.
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