On January 25th, 2011, I had the pleasure to talk with Matt Reeves, whose film Let Me In is on store shelves now. You may also know him as the director of Cloverfield.
Reeves was born in Rockville Centre, New York, and raised in Los Angeles, California. He began making movies at eight years old, directing friends with a wind-up camera. Reeves met and became friends with J.J. Abrams when both were 13 years old, and both were having their short films aired on a cable access channel. Reeves attended the University of Southern California. There, he produced an award-winning student film titled “Mr. Petrified Forest”, which helped him acquire an agent, and also co-wrote a script that eventually became Under Siege 2: Dark Territory. After graduating, he co-wrote The Pallbearer, which also became his professional directorial debut.
Reeves and Abrams co-created the TV series Felicity, and Reeves directed several of that series’ episodes, including the pilot… but, without further ado, our conversation about “Let Me In”.
GS: The Oscar nominations came out this morning… were you surprised that “Let Me In” was snubbed?
MR: To be honest, no. (laughs) I was not surprised. If you asked my opinion about whether certain actors deserved something, I certainly thought they did. But I was not surprised. It got a wonderful critical response, but the film has still reached a very small audience. There’s also a certain stigma attached because it’s a horror film. These things combined, I never really thought we would get nominated for anything. I loved the cinematography from Greig Fraser, the sound guys… lots of work that was nomination-worthy, but I’m not surprised.
GS: I talked to Richard (Jenkins) recently, and I know he refers to the film not as horror, but as a “human” film…
MR: Yes, that’s very much how we thought of it. Underneath the horror story, it was a metaphor for the horror of adolescence, so it’s very much a coming of age story. These are characters who go through tremendous pain. With Richard’s character, and why I wanted Richard to play him, was that I wanted to meet a character that appears as a serial killer, but as you peel the layers away you start to see the tragedy of the character. He didn’t have that many scenes or that many lines, but he was a tragic character. I knew Richard could bring that aspect out, and make you feel for the character and understand why he was doing the things he was doing. Despite that, you could feel his humanity.
GS: And I know there was a lot of sexual material with Richard’s character you left out, but his role is still greatly expanded from the Swedish version…
MR: You know, like I said, the notion for me was… in the book, his name is Hakan. And he does have a very different story, a crazy story. It’s a fantastic thing in the novel, but if you translated the novel faithfully, you’d end up with like a 10-hour miniseries. Because not only would you have to follow his character, and where he goes. Hakan in the book goes on well after he goes out the window in the hospital, and lives on as a zombie that is sort of lumps of burned flesh. It’s horrific in the book. I chose to, as much as possible, focus on the coming of age story because that’s what I related to and that’s what I felt you could tell in a 2-hour movie. And so, in doing that, when I saw the Swedish film — before I read the book — I saw Hakan as an older version of Oskar, a potential path of where Oskar could go. That was one of the things where when I read the novel, I loved it, but I couldn’t think of a way to express that in the time allotted. So I let the audience interpret what the ending will be. For me, the end of “Let Me In” is very much like the end of “The Graduate” — they’re on the train, or the bus, and there’s this moment of pleasure where you know they’re together, but now what? This lets the audience project themselves into the film. There are many people who think it’s very romantic, and others who think it’s very chilling… and part of that was setting up Richard’s character, so you knew this was a potential future for Owen, Kodi’s character. That was why we set out to do that in that way, in terms of his tragedy… I wanted to do it in a way inspired by Hitchcock’s “Dial M For Murder”, where you feel sympathy for the killer. As much as you think you would feel sympathy for Grace Kelly, you feel the tragedy of the death of the killer. That was the amazing skill of Hitchcock, his ability to turn the audience’s conscious thoughts against their subconscious. If i could find a way to do that here, it would make the film resonate more strongly.
GS: The sexual ambiguity of Chloe’s character…
MR: The fact that she’s really a boy?
GS: Yeah. Was that removed just to simplify the story?
MR: It was, because even though it’s a beautiful aspect of the book, and you get the painful and horrific moment as Eli is castrated… the point of the film is empathy, and in the book she tells Oskar that she is some kind of freak, and she wants to see his reaction. They kiss, and suddenly Oskar sees the pain that she feels. That creates such empathy and he can forgive everything that Eli is and does. But without being able to delve into that level of detail, I thought it would be distracting to the coming of age love story. You have to be able to understand them in an intimate way, and see them from their point of view. I didn’t know how to present this part of the book in a way that wouldn’t be distancing for the audience. When I watched the Swedish version of the film, I hadn’t read the book yet, so when Eli reveals the scars on her genitalia, I had no idea what I was seeing. There’s no context. Seeing the film cold, without any background, I interprets that moment as a coming of age moment where he was fascinated by her genitalia. I didn’t know it was a bigger revelation that would only make sense to someone who had read the book. That was a conscious choice. In “Let Me In”, if you know the back story, you can still interpret it in that way, but you do not have to.
GS: You will be appearing on Film Independent Directors Close Up soon…
MR: We’re going to do a thing about sound, and the Skywalker guys I worked with on “Cloverfield” will be there. We’re going to do a panel about films and music function to create a tone, with a focus on “Let Me In” and “Cloverfield”.
GS: This will be live?
MR: Yeah, we haven’t done it yet. I wish we could give you a sneak preview. I’m very excited to do it. To me, sound is critically important, and on “Cloverfield” I really bonded with the Skywalker guys — Doug (Murray) and Will (Files) — and they literally invited me to come up to Skywalker, and I wrote sections of “Let Me In” there. They told me that George Lucas had envisioned Skywalker not only as a place for movies to get sound, but also a retreat for artists to come and write. So they invited me up there for two weeks, and there was a piece of music I was listening to while writing. The sound guys took that piece of music and mixed in a sort of eerie wind into it in an endless loop. So I sat there listening to wind and music that they put together.
GS: I know this wasn’t your film, but you’re friends with the creators… can you comment on “Cabin in the Woods”?
MR: You know what? I can’t comment on it, because I haven’t seen it. It’s in limbo right now. I was finishing editing as they were finishing shooting. I can’t wait to see it, but I can’t imagine what it’s like for them to have their baby just waiting to be released. He told me as soon as there’s a way for me to see it, I will. I heard it was great, and I know Richard was in and loved making the film. Drew (Goddard) is incredibly talented.
GS: There were rumors online of an “Invisible Woman” movie, and they have died down… is that a sign that the project is slowing down?
MR: It’s not slowing down, I just need to put it back together. And I’m looking for what’s next. I am waiting for the next big project to come, and then I have to find a way to marry — schedule-wise — that project to it. To be able to go from one to the other, because it’s a smaller project, but I’m passionate about it. I don’t know what my next project is, but I’m reading a lot of stuff. And one of the most exciting things for me professionally has been that the response to the film, so that has increased the number of offers.
GS: Thank you for your time.
MR: And thank you for writing about it… I hope for more people to see the film, and I think writing about it is an important way to get the word out.