Capone grills CLOVERFIELD director Matt Reeves about LET ME IN, the LET THE RIGHT ONE IN remake!!!
Published at: June 7, 2010, 7:20 a.m. CST by Capone
Hey everyone. Capone in Chicago here.
Outside of convention settings, I'm not a big fan of interviewing any actor or director without having first seen the film we're there to focus on, but for reasons I can't quite explain, I have now interviewed director Matt Reeves twice, both times about films I hadn't seen at the time. Actually, I can explain why. The first time was because he was the director of CLOVERFIELD, a film with one of the most mysterious marketing campaigns in recent memory and all of geekdom was clawing for details on the film.
More recently at the SXSW Film Festival in March, I elected to talk to Reeves for a very simple reason: he's a great conversationalist. Plus, his latest work LET ME IN--the remake of the Swedish vampire masterpiece LET THE RIGHT ONE IN--was at the center of a major controversy before Reeves had shot a single frame of the work. Most of the controversy revolved around the need for a remake in the first place, let alone on the heels of the original film's release. Before anyone jumps on the Talkbacks with knee-jerk negativity, I want you to read what Reeves says about the process that went into making the film, the timing, and his justification for making this film in the first place. For all of its critical praise, LET THE RIGHT ONE IN was not seen by a whole lot of Americans (probably because of all those scary subtitles).
A recent report of a secret test screening of the film seems to indicate Reeves (who also wrote the adaptation) is mostly faithful to the original's structure and plot--a wise choice. I'm also crazy about the cast of Chloe Moretz (Hit Girl in KICK-ASS) as the vampire, THE ROAD's Kodi Smit-McPhee as the boy, and Richard Jenkins as the vampire's "father." But in the end, I--like many of you--am immensely protective of LET THE RIGHT ONE IN, and any attempt at recapturing the atmosphere and intensity of that movie seems ill-advised at best.
Reeves had only recently finished shoot LET ME IN when we spoke, but I was determined to get a few things straight about his approach to this material. I'm in no way vouching for the final product, but his words put me in a much better frame of mind about what we will see on October 1, when the film is set for release. I also love his enthusiasm for the source material (meaning the book the original film was based on). At the very least, Matt Reeves convinced me this material means as much to him as anyone else who might have made this remake. But don't take my word for it; let's let Mat Reeves speak for himself. Enjoy…
Capone: I don't know if you remember, but we spoke on the phone when you were doing your first round of interviews shortly before CLOVERFIELD was released.
Matt Reeves: Of course I do. That was a crazy time!
Capone: It was, and I was just saying to someone that technically this is the second time I’ve talked to you movie unseen.
MR: Right, exactly! That’s true. And I basically gave you no answers at that time.
Capone: Actually I re-read it last night, there’s actually more information there than I originally remembered.
MR: Were there some answers? Okay, good.
Capone: There was some good stuff in there, yeah. But this time, you have to promise me that once I see LET ME IN that we can talk again.
MR: Absolutely, of course.
Capone: I’m sure I’ll have lots of very different questions.
Capone: I’m sure this isn’t the first and won't be the last time you will get this question, but let’s start with: In your head, how do you justify the existence of this film. Going through this process, what was the thinking? And I understand that motivation where you see a great foreign film and want Americans to see it as well. So tell me just what your thinking was.
MR: Sure, the thing about it is is that when I first finished CLOVERFIELD, just right after it got released I started…There’s a movie that I’ve been passionate about making called INVISIBLE WOMAN, and there’s all of this stuff that I’ve been trying to do. I was trying to figure out my next project, and somebody said “We’d love to do a movie with you” and they said, “Take a look at this film. We are pursuing the rights for it.” And this was around the time of CLOVERFIELD, so that was January 2008. The movie [LET THE RIGHT ONE IN] didn’t come out until long after that, almost a year later. I think it was October of that year, and so I didn’t know anything about the movie, and they gave it to me and they said, “It’s a fantastic story. It’s a terrific movie; you might want to make the kids older. Who knows what you will want to do, but we think you might really respond to it.”
I’m watching the movie and the thing about it is is that part of INVISIBLE WOMAN is that it started as this story that I had done that was a pilot when I was doing "Felicity" with J.J. Abrams [the two were co-creators of "Felicity"], and we both sort of had these overall deals. And J.J.’s pilot was "Alias," and of course we all know what happened there. I did a pilot that didn’t get made, but it was a family story and it was a coming-of-age story told from the point of view of this 11-year-old boy--sort of a dark story--who lived in this apartment courtyard, and there was this girl next door, and they had these halting encounters in the courtyard and it was all about the pain of that age. So I’m watching the movie and I’m like “Oh my God, I love this movie.” That tone was so what I had been wanting to do ,and then when it became this brilliant vampire story, I was like “This is genius!” So I was like “Okay, I’m going to read the book” and I thought the book was incredible, so I went to the person who had given me the film and I said “I have two things to say: Number one if you make these kids older, you literally destroy the story, so if you do that, please don’t make this film. Number two, to that point; I’m not sure you should do a remake of this film. This film is brilliant.” I thought it was brilliant, but it couldn’t sort of leave my imagination. I was going “If somebody is going to do this film, it’s so great” and I so responded to it personally and I read the book and was like “This is such a beautiful story.”
So I wrote to [book and screenplay writer John Ajvide] Lindqvist (novel). I wrote him a thing, I said “I know that you know they are talking about a remake”--and he wrote the screenplay as well to the story--and I thought what Tomas Alfredson had done was so brilliant with the way it was directed. It was so beautifully restrained, and the kids were so great, and it was this aching, beautiful, melancholy story and I was saying to him in my e-mail, “I just want to tell you that I’m so drawn to this story, but let me tell you why. I respond to it, not just because it’s just a great genre story--which it is--but because it’s such a beautiful coming-of-age story.” I said, “I’m really sort of grappling with this and I just wanted to write to you to tell you how much I admire what you did, because I think it’s so beautiful.” I talked about the fact that I had been bullied when I was young and just the idea of the pain of that, of going through the family separation, the idea of going through a divorce at that age and feeling helpless and “Who do you turn to?” Just such a vivid story.
So he wrote back to me and he said first of all that he was a big fan of CLOVERFIELD, which got me very excited. I was like “That’s cool,” but then he said what he liked about it was that it took an old story and did it with a fresh take, and he said “That’s really what we tried to do and what I tried to do with the novel” and I was like “Boy did you do that…” He said, “But I’m much more excited to find out about your personal reaction, because this is my autobiography.” And the thing about it is is that I have had trepidation about that aspect of it all along. I kept thinking that there are going to be so many people who are going to say "This is a beautiful film," but the [original] film hadn’t even come out yet, so I didn’t even know how many people would have seen the film.
MR: At that point, it’s sort of like you get on a train and it starts going and you are kind of like “Oh here’s were we are going.” And the thing that I knew was that I was just so drawn to that story and to try and find a way to do it in an American context and in a way that nothing will ever change the fact that that is a brilliant film, and it’s a beautiful novel. That film and novel, they will always exist, and people will always be able to say “Wow, that was such a great film.” And I was interested in finding a way to use the personal aspect of the story to explore that same story in an American context, and when I first started saying that, people were saying “Oh an Americanization, he’s going to take the movie and make it a big stupid movie with explosions!” Really what I was talking about and the thing about the book--there’s this great chapter, which is the opening of the book where he talks about Blackeberg, which is where he grew up and he talks about Blackeberg as being this community that essentially was a planned community that sprouted out, which sounds like a very American sort of thing with the Levittowns, post-World War II and all of the tracked housing kind of communities like "Spielbergia," and he talked about how these communities would sprout up and that this community sprouted up and they built it and you can imagine one day that everybody just moved in, and they all came in one day. But what he said at the end of the chapter--and this is the thing that got me hooked in the book right from the very first chapter--was he said “But there wasn’t a single church in this place, which is probably why they were so unprepared for what was about to happen.” Then you are like “What?! I have to read this. This is brilliant.” The thing about it is is that I related to that idea of the sort of suburban thing. It had a perfect analogy…
Capone: The Godless suburbia? [Laughs]
MR: But the thing is, it wasn’t a Godless suburbia, and so that was the idea of the kind of things that I meant with “Americanization.” The Swedish story is set in the '80s and I wanted to set this story in the '80s as well. I wanted to honor it as much as possible and translate it into an American context, and our America of the '80s of course was Reagan America and the idea of the Evil Empire and the idea of being a 12-year-old boy who is so mercilessly bullied, who is basically disconnected from his family, because there is this painful thing that’s going on with the parents getting divorced and feeling so lost and helpless and what that would feel like to be having these dark fantasies in a place where the world is telling you that “Evil is other. Evil is outside of us. It’s over there. The Evil Empire. The Russians, they are evil, but we are not.” The idea of not a Godless America, but an America that is steeped in religion. The idea of saying that those feelings are basically evil. To grapple with the evil within him, I think was one of the things I was interested in, the idea of “So what does that mean?”
In that context, I get it and that’s an amazing story, but it’s an interesting story in this context too, which is “What does it mean to be a 12-year-old boy who doesn’t understand these feelings that probably terrify him and then to meet this person who is this manifestation of those things and who can enact in a blinding second basically every dark thought that he ever had?” That’s a scary idea, and so that was what I meant. I meant that I wanted to find a way to translate the experience of being a 12 year old at that time in that kind of context in an American world, which relates in certain ways to the Swedish story, but in other ways, through specificity, is different and that’s all I really wanted to do. Through specificity try and make it as honest and real as possible, which is what they had done in the Swedish context. It’s what made the film so brilliant.”
Capone: Where have you set the film, geographically?
MR: We actually set it in Los Alamos, [New Mexico] because that’s also an iconic place with a very interesting history as well.
Capone: Is snow be a part of your version? I can’t imagine this story without it. Snow is a character.
MR: The snow is a character, and it’s so funny, because when somebody first suggested to me that I look in New Mexico, I had actually set it in Colorado, and somebody said “If you are setting it in Colorado, you might consider shooting in New Mexico” and I was like “New Mexico? Isn’t that like desert? I’m confused.” They are at a very high elevation and obviously they are connected to the Colorado, they are very… They have really snowy areas, and actually Los Alamos in particular… It’s very funny, because Drew Goddard, who wrote CLOVERFIELD, he and I were talking about it, and he was very excited and the idea of me doing this film, because he just knows me and knows the kind of things I’m interested in and he was like “No, I’m telling you this is very exciting.” And of course, I was terrified at various points, because again, like I said, this was way before the film came out. Once the film came out, then a whole new life started coming, and by that point I was so committed to what we were doing and I still really believe in it, but there’s this part of me going “Look what’s happening. Oh my God, people are going to come and murder us.”
Capone: People were saying, “It’s the best vampire movie ever.”
MR: Exactly and you know what, if I were in that crowd who had just seen the movie and heard this was going on, I would have exactly the same cynical thought. I would think, “What are you guys doing? You're doing whatever you can to quickly jump in, make a buck, take a great story, and basically bastardize it.” That’s why from the beginning I tried to do basically as much as possible before I even knew that there would be that sort of thought, it was just like that’s how I felt about the story. I thought “This story needs to be honored,” and that has really been my approach from the beginning. It’s the reason why we didn’t age the kids, why we got Kodi [Smit-Mcphee], why we got Chloe [Moretz], why we got Richard Jenkins, like the idea was “Let’s try and do this.”
So I wanted to set it in Colorado, and Drew had gone to college in Colorado and he goes “Perfect place.” And then when New Mexico came up, I went on the internet and I started looking up Los Alamos just so I could understand more about it, because I love the idea of Los Alamos, just because of what it meant again in an American context of war and what that place grew out of and the idea of the atomic bomb. And then I looked at it and I found Los Alamos High School, and it said “Famous Alums” and it said “Drew” and I called up Drew and I was like “Not only did you go to school in Colorado, you’re from Los Alamos?” He goes “Oh yeah, I’m from Los Alamos.” I’m like “Can you imagine this story there?” He goes, “Oh, yeah.” He said ,“It’s basically my childhood.” I was like “Yeah…” That was sort of how it happened and it’s totally snowy, remote, suburban living. It’s actually a really interesting and great place, but you could totally see the story taking place there. And, yes, snow is definitely an aspect of the film, but it’s a desert-in-New Mexico snow, so the landscape is quite different, but it’s snowing.
Capone: What are some of the fundamental differences between the two versions? For example, I’m curious about some of the secondary characters, the bar patrons. What you have done with them?
MR: Again, because I’m just starting the editing and how things end up. My intention, and the thing about it is is, that I’m very driven in filmmaking with the idea of point of view. Obviously CLOVERFIELD is the extreme example of it, but I grew up Spielbergian and also Hitchcockian kind of films that really… and actually Polanski, and all of those films that were very driven by the point of view of the character who is at the center of it. And one of the things that I really wanted to do was to take this story and find the way, because the thing that really resonated with me was the coming-of-age story, to filter it as much through his point of view as possible, so that the secondary characters would be characters…
It’s interesting, because like I said when you read the book, if you were to truly make every aspect of the book, you would have a 10-hour miniseries. Just between Virginia and Lacke alone, they have a story that is it’s own. The bar patrons have all of this stuff that happens and the same thing with what happens with Hakan. He goes on, and the things that go on after what happens in the movie, I mean he’s not dead in the book, it continues. If you were to truly do every single one of those aspects, the thing would be sprawling. It would be amazing, but it would be a 10-hour miniseries, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that didn’t happen someday. But the essence of this story was the coming-of-age aspect. It’s what Lindqvst had chosen to smartly focus on, and to me that "Romeo and Juliet" story is so powerful. So what I wanted to do was to take the boy’s experience and have it be as point-of-view driven as possible, so you meet those secondary characters through his world. The idea of his eyes and looking out, the idea of that courtyard experience.
It’s interesting, because it’s not quite as clear in the film, but it’s very clear in the book that they actually all live in this same sort of grouping of buildings in the courtyard, and I just thought that was such and interesting opportunity for him to introduce us to those characters through his watchfulness, through the idea of a kid who is trying to understand the world around him. A lot of coming-of-age stories have that aspect of the kid looking out into the adult world, and the adult world being both alluring and terrifying and confusing, and that’s very much what the coming-of-age experience is, so my idea in trying to adapt it was to take as much of the story and filter it as much as I could through his point of view, so we are introduced to those characters through him and so that’s different.
Capone: So probably not as much time spent in the bar bar?
MR: He doesn’t spend a lot of time in a bar. Long-winded answer for the bar story.
Capone: Yea, but I understand what you are saying--he's meeting them as part of his day-to-day routine.
MR: Yeah, meeting them differently and following them differently. It’s a more distanced approach, because it’s him not even necessarily knowing that much about them and watching them and having encounters with them and not necessarily being “Okay, let’s break point of view and let’s follow their story.” It’s the idea of trying to tell their story through his point of view and primarily how if effects his story. What’s so brilliant about the "Romeo and Juliet" aspect of the story is it is truly on one level and impossible romance and it comes up obviously with a very interesting ending, which is both fantastic and also disturbing, if you think about it.
Capone: You don’t realize it until the ending that the whole story has been building to that ending. You don’t realize it until the final scene.
MR: Exactly and then you are like “Oh my God!” And that’s the thing, the idea of trying to tell the story in that way and how those pieces all inexorably move in one direction. That was what I wanted to honor and also find a way to do in this version, to make it as much through his point of view as could happen. There’s not everything that’s totally his point of view, but it’s as much as I could find a way to do. And the story has certain aspects of it that in order to tell it, you might have to break point of view for a moment here and there, but I tried to be as vigilant about keeping it in his point of view as possible.
Capone: I think it's fair to say that the original film was not afraid of long periods of silence; it embraced it. CLOVERFIELD is like a Chatty Cathy doll compared to it.
MR: [laughs] It sure is!
Capone: Are you willing to let that breathing room happen?
MR: That’s the whole thing. It’s interesting, because until I did CLOVERFIELD, I had never done anything like CLOVERFIELD. In fact the restraint of the film is something that I really responded to and something that I love. The thing about CLOVERFIELD was it was true to the form in which it was. It was meant to be a Handicam movie in the midst of a monster disaster in essence, and there’s not a lot of quiet time in that and that’s madness. The idea of the kind of creeping dread of this film and of the story is something that absolutely… There’s going to be quite a bit of silence in the story. Really what it comes down to is the approach, which is one of restraint. The reason I mention like THE EXORCIST or THE SHINING as well is to me…the thing about CLOVERFIELD is, it wasn’t about the manic-ness of it, it was to take a ridiculous genre idea--this giant monster movie, which is such a fun concept--and try to do it in as realistic a way as possible and the reality of that situation is very chaotic, very frenetic. It’s the Handicam point of view, but it was an attempt to create a reality in something that could on the face of it be ridiculous, but if you took it seriously, it would hopefully be this disturbing event that would be very kinetic.
This story--if you imagine the reality of this story--it’s obviously quite different. It isn’t a kinetic kind of story, it’s a much more slow burn creeping dread kind of thing and THE EXORCIST and THE SHINING and those kinds of movies, they use that approach as well. It’s funny, because the director of photography and I watched THE EXORCIST during the prep, and I said to him beforehand “I just don’t want you to lose respect for me.” He said, “What are you talking about?” “This movie frightens me, so you should know if I make any outbursts…” He was like “Oh, okay whatever” and he kept getting up and going out to the bathroom and I thought “He’s not into this movie at all, what’s going on?” Then finally there’s the scene were she starts flopping on the bed and he literally had an outburst “I forgot how much this movie terrifies me!” That’s why he kept getting up and going to the bathroom. I was like “Oh good, so at least I didn’t embarrass myself.” The thing about the approach to that film that [William] Friedkin did that’s so amazing is that it’s very very real and naturalistic, and it creates a kind of dread and it’s about the silences.
If you think about the beginning of that film, all of that stuff in Iraq is absolutely haunting, and a lot of it is totally without dialog, and that kind of tone is part of what gives the movie a kind of authenticity that makes it horrifying. To me, it makes it much scarier. If that movie had been very in your face, as much as people do think the movie is in your face, the approach is actually quite restrained and that was what Tomas had done and what I think is the right thing to do with a story like this, which is to allow there to be restraint, so when those things happen, it feels totally real and that’s what makes it scary.
Capone: Two quick rapid-fire questions, because they are giving me the wrap up.
MR: I’m sorry. I know and everything I say is like six minutes long.
Capone: Oh no, I love it. At least it’s not the opposite of that. [Both Laugh] Is the film anatomically correct?
MR: Oh, interesting… Well, you know the thing about it is… I don’t want to give anything away just yet. You will see when you see the movie, but I have tried to remain as true to the story as possible, but you guys will tell me! [Laughs] “Anatomically correct,” that’s great!
Capone: I’ve heard some horribly scary rumor that maybe this wouldn't be R rated?
Capone: It is?
MR: Oh yeah. Well, let’s put it this way, because it’s very funny. I think the reason this came up is because KICK-ASS… That’s funny, because I use the word “Americanization” what I was talking about was context, but it had nothing to do with big and dumb and PG-13. I don’t know what the rating will be. I would be shocked if it wasn’t an R, because the very content of what the story is, which we haven’t watered down, is an R. But someone said “Well KICK-ASS actually got a 12 in the UK” and I said, “That’s amazing. That’s crazy.” I haven’t seen it.
Capone: Someone told me it actually got a 15. I read that, but I think the person that said that was wrong.
MR: You think he was wrong? Okay, because I wouldn’t be surprised, because we are all sitting there and I said “If that turns out to be the case, I think it just means that there’s a different cultural response to it, because in the United States, I cannot imagine the film as we have done it getting anything other than an R.” I just can’t imagine it. Now if it does, I’ll be surprised. Let’s put it this way, there was no attempt to try and soften it to make PG-13.
Capone: Well some other teenage vampire movies of late have been PG-13, so maybe they were thinking you were trying to tap into that audience.
MR: That’s true, but that story is so different. It is much more of a lighter fantasy, and this one is dark.
Capone: All right, thank you so much.
MR: My pleasure.
Capone: It was great to meet you.
MR: Great to meet you, and thank you so much! I'm sure we'll talk again after you see the film.
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