An Interview with Matt Reeves – By James Dubbeldam

Matt Reeves took quite a risk remaking the Swedish film “Let the Right One in”.  His remake, “Let Me In” was not widely anticipated. That’s because the original is so well-loved.  When Tomas Alfredson (the director of “Let the Right One In”) was asked about the re-make- he was adamantly against it. He thought his version didn’t need to be re-made.

“Remakes should be made of movies that aren’t very good, that gives you the chance to fix whatever has gone wrong.”

Alfredson was even offered the opportunity to direct the American version, but he turned it down.

So Matt Reeves had a lot of pressure taking on the project. But Reeves, the director of “Cloverfield”, did his research. He worked closely with the Swedish author of the novel (entitled “Let the Right One In”) to make his version closer to the book as well as making it his own. And he achieved a great level of success, garnering generally positive reviews from critics and fans.

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James: How did you get involved with “Let Me In”?

Matt: It’s a long answer! I had just finished "Cloverfield" and was going around with a project I was trying to get made. I met with Overture Films and they loved the script but thought it was too risky at that moment, as it was a tough time in the indie world and my project was an independent-type film. That really bummed me out and I thought after doing “Cloverfield” that I could get a small movie like that made.

They loved the writing and my film “Cloverfield”, and told me that they wanted to do something with me. So they asked if I would be interested in doing a remake. I said, “No, not really”. They told me that I should take a look at the movie they wanted re-made.

It was January 2008 and “Let the Right One In” hadn’t even come out in the US. So I took the movie home and watched it and it really struck a cord with me. The story was beautiful and the kids were great. So I called them the next day and I told them, “I don’t think it should be re-made”. They said, “we don’t even have the rights currently, so think about it.”

They didn’t get the rights interestingly enough, Hammer Films did. So Overture contacted Hammer and told them they wanted to partner and distribute it for them.  In the meantime I read the novel and I loved it. I thought, maybe there is a way to do it closer to novel. It was all about a boy growing up in Sweden in the 80’s, and I grew up in the 80’s in the US, so maybe there’s a way to transpose this into an American context and still be very faithful to the story and still be able to personalize it. So, against my better judgement, I told them that I would consider it. So I wrote John Lindqvist (the author of the novel) and he was very supportive. He loved “Cloverfield” and told me- “I would be excited if you do this.” So I went back to them and said I’ll do it. It was a journey of a few months!!!

James: One of the things I want to talk to you about is style. It’s one of the most important aspects of this film and in my opinion why it’s so good. Considering what you did with “Cloverfield” and that many people thought that would become your style, how did you figure out how you were going to take on this project stylistically?

Matt: Actually, most of my work prior to “Cloverfield” was closer to the style of “Let Me In”. “Cloverfield” has that style because it is the POV (point of view) of the handi-cam. The connection between the two films is that I love POV filmmaking. I like to tell the story by immersing you into a character‘s experience. In “Cloverfield” it wasn’t just a character but it was the camera itself. So that was a very vigorous exercise, if that makes any sense!

I wanted this film to be in the POV of the boy (Kodi Smit-McPhee’s character) and also at times to follow the POV of Richard Jenkins’ character and tell the story through their eyes. I wanted to create a classical, Hitchcock type style of suspense. See the world as the characters see it- then cut to them reacting and to try and create identification at the same time. The point of the story was to get you to identify with these characters in some way.

You meet them (the characters) in a way that you’re not sure about them and you (as the viewer) have to peel the layers back. When you meet Kodi he’s in his room, he’s got his knife- he’s saying these things about threatening someone imaginary, and you think- what is going on with this kid? And when you peel these layers back you realize he’s role-playing and you start to feel for him because of his situation. I tried to do the same thing with Richard Jenkins character, who looks like a serial killer (and through his actions really is a serial killer) and the power relationship is not how you expect it with is “daughter”. He’s not actually her father in the sense you think when he walks into the movie and hopefully as the movie proceeds you will feel the tragedy of his character.

James: I am curious how you created the unique texture of this film; the smoothness that slowly draws the viewer in. What did you do to prepare with your DOP (Director of Photography- Greig Fraser) to accomplish this?

Matt: We watched a lot of classic horrors from the 70’s and 80’s (the Exorcist, the Shining etc.) and we also watched less common titles- like “In the Mood for Love”- to see examples of the POV style.  I wanted you in the movie to never see the mother’s face so that you would really be seeing the movie from Kodi’s POV and that was something that I was borrowing from “In the Mood For Love” where the characters are both married but you as the viewer never see their partner’s faces. It creates this emotional isolation that really works there. And so there was this sense from the beginning that it was going to be a slow-burn, character driven story.  So we watched a lot of movies and spent a great deal of time talking about that style that we wanted it to look like. So it’s really great that you saw it that way because that was the intention!

James: So basically you sat down to research what it could look and feel like together using examples, then decided where to go from there?

Matt: Yeah, in my mind I had always envisioned in that way, so when I brought Greig in we talked about that and through that exercise and knowing about each others work really helped. He also sent me a lot of stills that he thought expressed the mood I was looking for which he got from his reaction to reading the script. We found that worked. I originally chose him because of his style and, I love his work!

James: Your connection with your DOP is one of the most important things in a project like this?

Matt: Yes, it is. One of the most important things for sure. Having a creative connection is essential. He was also so easy to work with, so great with everyone else that it affected me the whole project. He helped create a great atmosphere, something safe and that was very important considering the cast of child actors. We had a low budget, shot short days and had to feel on the set that things were calm and he helped that through his attitude.

James: Taking into consideration what style and types of videos/films people are exposed to nowadays (like YouTube and fast paced/edited TV programs like 24) and how different they are from the classics, were you worried when you decided to take that stylistic approach to the film that it wouldn’t be well received?

Matt: The truth is I didn’t think about it that much. Those movies (the classics) are just as powerful today as they were when I first watched them. This story suits that style- the eeriness, slow-burn, and that connecting to characters can’t be done through fast editing like 24. You need to stay with them (the characters) in order to feel what’s going on. You need the moments in between the moments to really get it. If it’s fast paced you just don’t get that. “Cloverfield” was much more like that- it was about chaos and that’s what you saw and felt. This is not what this film is about and the story would have been very ill-served if I decided to impose that style on it.

James: So you’re saying that the subtleties when you hold a shot longer, and the moments in between the speaking parts of a conversation is what gives you that?

Matt: Yeah. Especially when you’re drawing out a relationship- to identify with the characters- takes a while. The other thing is that if you’re creating a story that is supposed to have suspense it is about waiting! There is nothing more powerful then waiting. If you watch Hitchcock’s movies, it’s almost the point to wait. That’s what gets the audience involved and creates the tension that something is coming. You want to stretch that out as far as you can get that without loosing people by going too long with a shot/scene. There’s a constant struggle with that. We played in editing, asking- how long can this last? When is it too long?

James: You definitely created that in this film in my opinion. Viewers nowadays are missing those elements in horrors and thrillers, it’s all about the scares, the SFX (special effects) etc. You created a great balance and I think that’s what made it work so well.

Matt: Thank you.

“Let Me In” is released on Blu-Ray and DVD February 1st.