Interview: ‘Let Me In’ Director Matt Reeves!

While many critics (including our own Mr. Disgusting!) hailed director Matt Reeves’ Let Me In – a remake of the 2008 Swedish film Let the Right One In – as a modern-day vampire classic, the movie unfortunately failed to find much of an audience during its theatrical run. Luckily, those who missed it the first time around will have a second chance to check it out on February 1st, when Let Me In is released on DVD/Blu-Ray through Anchor Bay Entertainment. B-D reporter Chris Eggertsen recently got on the phone with Reeves to talk about the film, with the director discussing his thoughts on its poor box-office performance, how he would have marketed the movie differently, and why if it hadn’t been for his involvement the remake may have gone in a more “teen-oriented” direction.

When Steven Spielberg and Stephen King both go out of their way to compliment you on your filmmaking prowess, you must be doing something right. Such is the recent experience of director Matt Reeves, whose interesting career trajectory has taken him from helming the unfortunate mid-’90s David Schwimmer vehicle The Pallbearer (yep, he made that) to crafting the shaky-cam blockbuster Cloverfield just over a decade later. His latest film, the dark vampire flick Let Me In (a remake of Tomas Alfredson’s Let the Right One In) was a critical darling but a financial disappointment, although like all films it will get a second chance to be discovered on DVD/Blu-ray (in this case February 1st). I recently got on the phone with the director to discuss the film, and in the process I uncovered a few interesting tidbits – including why Reeves is actually thankful for the existence of a little movie called Twilight. Check out the full interview below.
Bloody-Disgusting: First of all, the film was very well-received critically but it didn’t really catch on with the general public the way you guys hoped it would. In hindsight, what do you think the reason for that is?

Matt Reeves: I don’t know, there are so many…you know, it was such a confluence of events. I mean, it was a moment when Overture unfortunately was going out of business. It was a difficult sell as a story, because it was an adult story with two children at the center of it. And that might have been a confusing message. And you know, it was such an unusual story. I think there are many reasons.

I still would live to believe that there was a way that the movie could have connected more to an audience and that there was a way to approach that. I don’t know whether or not that’s true, but there’s part of me that believes that. You know, who knows? But I think that to me what’s exciting is that it was well-received and I feel that it really has a chance to expand its audience on DVD. I know that there are a lot of movies that I missed that I then finally see on DVD or download and I suddenly [think], ‘How would I miss that? That’s a really interesting movie’. And I hope the audience will expand for the movie now.

BD: Obviously being the director you don’t have as much how the film is marketed, but was there anything that you would’ve differently?

MR: You know, it’s hard to say. I mean, I don’t know. One of the things that we talked about is ‘was it even a mistake to…’ The interesting thing about releasing a horror film is that when you…other genres, sometimes when you release multiple different kinds of films on a day, they end up actually expanding the market and more people will go. But the thing that they’ve discovered about horror films is if there are multiple horror films that in fact they don’t feed each other, they cannibalize each other. And somebody who wants to see a horror film will go see either this one, that or the other, but they won’t see, let’s say, all three. And that was a crowded marketplace for horror films at that time. So that certainly didn’t help.

We also talked about whether or not maybe it was an idea…I think that there was a fear about how the movie would be received. And we ended up getting such good reviews that it might have been better actually to start much smaller and not try to…you know, we may have reached a similar-sized audience, but [the studio] would’ve spent less money on advertising and then it would’ve made it more profitable. But it’s hard to say. You know, I think probably starting smaller might’ve been good. I would’ve loved to have focused more on the love story. Because I really do think it’s, at it’s heart, a beautiful coming-of-age love story. But that’s not to say that that would’ve been more commercial. I just love that part of the film. So you know, it’s very, very hard to second guess.

BD: I get the sense it’s a film that will really be discovered by people on DVD/Blu-ray, since it showed up on so many year-end lists.

MR: Well, I hope you’re right. That would be great. I would love for people to get to finally see the film. You know, whenever that does happen, I do talk to people who’ve just started to see it and they were like, ‘I’m so sorry that I missed it but I’m really glad that I saw it, and how great Kodi [Smit-McPhee] and Chloe [Moretz] are, and Richard [Jenkins] and Elias [Koteas], and I just hope that people will maybe [look at] some of those year-end lists and when it comes down time to renting or purchasing maybe they’ll check it out.

BD: I heard Stephen King called it the best horror movie of the last decade or something.

MR: Yeah, that was really cool! You know it’s so funny because you do a movie like this and then suddenly people [are like], ‘oh, you [did] a vampire movie so you must be an expert on vampires!’ And it was very funny because I was asked to be on a panel by ‘The New Yorker’ in New York…on vampires. And one of the participants actually really does know much more about vampires than I do and that was Stephen King.

And he was there, and I couldn’t believe I was gonna meet him. I thought that was amazing. And I walk in and they introduce us, and I thought he’d just shake my hand. He immediately puts his arm around me – he’s very tall – and he pulls me aside and says, ‘can I talk you for a minute?’ And I said, ‘oh sure’. And it turned out he had just seen the movie and he wanted to tell me how much he loved the movie. The whole thing was completely surreal. I thought, ‘this is Stephen King!’ It was really neat.

BD: That’s really high praise from Stephen King.

MR: It was cool, yeah.

BD: Speaking of ‘Steph/v/ens’, I’d read in a previous interview that you spoke with Steven Spielberg actually and he’d given you advice on how to direct child actors.

MR: He completely did, yeah.

BD: Did he ever come by the set and give you tips while you were filming or anything like that?

MR: No, no. No, he didn’t. There was just one day when I was in pre-production and I just…you know, I met Steven once on the set of ‘Star Trek’. He was visiting one day when J.J. was filming at Paramount. And Ryan Berk called me, cause I was in the neighborhood, and he said ‘where are you?’ And I said, ‘oh, I’m just hanging out over here’. And he said, ‘come to Paramount right now’. And I said, ‘why?’ He said, ‘because Steven Spielberg said he wants to know where the director of ‘Cloverfield’ [is], he wants to meet you.’ And I was like, ‘what?’

So I came, and he was talking to J.J. and Damon Lindeloff and Rob Orci, and Alex Kurtzman, and they were all just chatting about the movie, and different stuff, and then I was just kind of a fly on the wall watching. And finally he turned and he said, ‘You’re Matt. You’re the director of ‘Cloverfield’?’ I said, ‘yeah’. He goes, ‘you really scared me’. And I was blown away, I thought ‘oh, it’s so cool.’ And he was really nice, and really generous, and telling me like shots he liked in the movie. And I was like, ‘this is so surreal’.

So I met him at one time and then when I realized I was gonna be doing this movie, I thought about the connection between – you know, I was thinking about growing up in the ’80s, and suburbia. Cause [John Ajvide] Lindqvist’s book talks a lot about the suburbs that he grew up in. And I started thinking…it made me think of ‘Spielbergia’ and ‘E.T.’ And I thought, ‘wow, he’s directed so many great performances from children.’

And so I called J.J. and I said…they were already at that point in planning ‘Super 8′, so I knew they were working together. And I said, ‘do you think that Steven would meet with me one day?’ And he said, ‘oh my god, I know how he is, he totally will.’ And he wrote back to me and said, ‘oh yeah, Steven’s office is gonna call you.’ And they did. And he invited me to his office, and we sat down for a couple hours in his office. He was incredibly kind. But it was just that one meeting.

BD: That’s pretty awesome.

MR: It was very awesome, it was great. And he gave me invaluable advice. He said to me, ‘never forget that you’re trying to make a movie about what you remember about being 12, but they actually are 12.’ ‘Let them lead you to the gold’, I think was how he put it. Let them come up with ideas. And the other thing he said, that I did, that was really helpful, was he said that he had often asked his young child actors in the movies to keep journals in character. And that the only requirement was that they had to share it with him. They could write anything they wanted. And I did that with Kodi and Chloe. It was very helpful. It was really good. So his advice was very, very helpful.

BD: Both the kids in your movie did a great job. Abby in your movie came off to me quite a bit more vicious than she was in the original film. I was wondering if that was a conscious choice.

MR: Well, what I wanted her to be…I was looking for the metaphor…what I didn’t want was for her to be playing a vampire. So when Chloe and I were talking…you know, there’s sort of these romantic notions of what a vampire would be. And in Lindqvist’s story, it isn’t romantic at all. It’s a terrible burden. And I found these photos by Mary Ellen Mark that she had taken of a homeless family. And in a lot of these photos there was a 12-year-old girl. And she had this look of defiance on her face, like ‘you’re not gonna mess with me.’ And yet you could see this vulnerability under all of that, that said that she was really damaged by the experience.

And I felt that this was the perfect metaphor for who Abby was, because she was, like this homeless girl, homeless, and a nomad, and had to move from place to place, and lived in squalor, and had seen things that no 12-year-old should ever see. But at her heart, she was still 12. And that was one of the things that really got me from the book, was this idea…you know, he had this conversation between Oskar and Eli where he asks her, once he realizes what she is, how old she really is. And he describes that she doesn’t quite understand why this is, but she’s been 12 for a really long time and she doesn’t really understand why she doesn’t get old. And he actually says, ‘well maybe it’s because you’re 12, maybe it’s because you’re a kid’. And she’s offended, she says ‘are you trying to say I’m stupid?’ He said, ‘no, I’m trying to say that we’re kids!’ And I just thought that that idea was very poignant.

And so I wanted her to have that quality, that sense of burden and of pain, but then I also wanted her – this is one of the things I talked about with Chloe – I wanted her to really indulge her dark side. The idea of when her sort of vicious instincts came out, that they would really take over. But that was in a way a strange metaphor for adolescence as well. The idea of…[when] we were designing her makeup, we always talked about it being ‘adolescence gone wrong’. And her skin would break out, and her teeth looked like they needed braces. They weren’t fangs, they were just really messed-up teeth. And that her dark impulses would be surging in her like hormones. Chloe was really good at that! You know, it was really fun. So there was an attempt, certainly, to make her more vicious. But also there was an attempt to try and ground her in something that felt like a burden.

BD: One of your mandates going into this, from what I understand, was that you wanted to maintain the ages of the children as they were in the book and the original film and not age them up. Was that a reaction to anything from the studio, as far as them wanting to make it more of a teen film?

MR: That was a reaction, yeah. It wasn’t a unified [push] from the studio, but there were certainly voices within the studio who said…I think they felt that we weren’t commercial. I think they thought it was a difficult thing to make a movie – as we were just talking about – to make an adult movie that centers on two kids. And I think they felt that if we could make them teens, that then teens could go to the movie and you wouldn’t have to worry about just getting adults, that it would make it easier.

And I said, after reading the novel and seeing the movie, I said, ‘well, if you do that, then you’re destroying everything that this story’s about, it’s what it’s about…so if you wanna do that, then I’m not gonna do the movie, and good luck’. And they backed off. But the interesting thing that happened…every now and then, they would question it, they say, ‘are you sure?’ And I would say, ‘Yes! Cause it’s what the movie’s about!’ And then ‘Twilight’ came out. And it was such a phenomenon, that a lot of people said, ‘oh well, they didn’t understand the timing’…we actually started before ‘Twilight’. And a lot of people said, ‘oh, was there pressure to make them older to make it more like ‘Twilight’?’

Actually, it was just the opposite. When ‘Twilight’ came out, the pressure immediately stopped, because I think they realized they needed to differentiate the movie from ‘Twilight’. They didn’t want it to seem like a ‘Twilight’ knockoff. And so immediately everybody who had been saying they should be older just sort of backed up. And I was really grateful that ‘Twilight’ was such a success because of that!