The director Matt Reeves says his vampire movie Let Me In is about the pain of adolescence.
A tale of bullies and vampires, says director
Filmmakers can wait their entire careers before finding a project that grows to become an obsession, but for the American director Matt Reeves it was a story that reminded him of the pain of his adolescence. This story was not some gritty drama set in his native California, but a child-vampire tale from Sweden.
Let Me In, which had enthusiastic reviews when it was screened at the Abu Dhabi Film Festival last week, is the US adaptation of the Scandinavian author John Ajvide Lindqvist's novel, Let the Right One In. The book was first turned into a film in 2008 by the Swedish director Tomas Alfredson and became a surprise international hit, hailed as a masterpiece by some critics.
Reeves, who is best-known for the 2008 monster movie Cloverfield, doesn't stray far from Alfredson's vision, except to give the tale a suburban setting in New Mexico, in the early 1980s.
It is the story of a lonely 12-year-old boy - a victim of bullying whose parents are going through a bitter divorce - who discovers that his only friend is a decades-old bloodsucker trapped in child form. While the film has all the hallmarks of the vampire genre, Reeves, 44, says the story is actually all about the horror of adolescence.
"The thing that is so omnipresent is that sense of horror and dread. That is the emotional state that Owen lives in permanently," he says. "When he goes to school he knows the bullies are there waiting, when is the other shoe going to drop? More important to me than the explosive, bloody scenes were the moments leading-up to those moments."
Reeves, who also grew-up in suburbs during the early 1980s, suffered many of the same trials that his young protagonist is forced to endure in the film.
"I was bullied and my parents went through a difficult divorce," he says. "Although a lot of the things stem from Lindqvist's novel, it felt like I was making a film about myself. It was very easy to relate to the characters and became kind of an obsession for me. It was an opportunity to make something personal."
The film is gorier than Alfredson's and includes CGI-scenes of the young vampire attacking its victims that would have seemed out of place in the original, but Reeves claims these stylistic choices were not an attempt to pander to the expectations of teenage US horror fans.
"When Lindqvist saw my film he loved it," he says. "He said that Alfredson's film was a great Swedish film and that mine is a great American film, but he actually felt that in terms of the horror; mine was more faithful to the novel."
Let Me In certainly doesn't deserve comparison with dull-minded Hollywood horrors of late, such as the Saw movies or slasher remakes Halloween and Friday the 13th. Instead, Reeves claims he drew inspiration from the tension-heavy genre classics of past decades, including The Shining, The Exorcist and Rosemary's Baby. But many of the film's influences were not from the world of horror at all.
"Spielberg made a movie all about coming of age in the 1980s with ET. Well, in its own way this is a sort of cousin to that, where the ET figure is a very, very dark vampire. It appealed to me because that was the sort of movie I would lose myself in as a kid," Reeves explains.
"The other influence, which was not from that period, was Hitchcock. I was really drawn into the idea of making suspenseful, point-of-view filmmaking and having the audience see things the way the characters see them."
But while the film's aesthetic and tone came naturally to the director, finding a pair of child actors to lend the story emotional resonance would prove a greater challenge. Let Me In, brings together Chloe Moretz, who grabbed headlines for her turn as the blue-tongued Hit-Girl in Kick-Ass, and Kodi Smit-McPhee, who gave an unforgettable performance in last year's post-apocalyptic drama, The Road. Both have won further praise for their performances in Let Me In.
"I hadn't seen The Road and I hadn't seen Kick-Ass when I cast them," says Reeves. "I spoke to both directors who spoke very highly of them, but they couldn't show me any footage."
With Let Me In winning international plaudits, Reeves says he is already being considered for a number of projects by major Hollywood studios. But many fans were surprised when the little-known director's name was one of five shortlisted to direct the next big-screen Superman film. The project, slated for 2012 and produced by The Dark Knight's Christopher Nolan, eventually went to the Watchmen director Zack Snyder.
"I was on the list that was put out to the press and was very flattered to be on it," he says. "I never actually got to meet with Chris Nolan - that would have been exciting."
While the director was cagey about the future, he confirmed that a sequel to Cloverfield, which was produced by JJ Abrams (the director of Star Trek and the creator of Lost) is in the early planning stages.
"We don't know what form it would take. I had an idea and Drew the writer had an idea and JJ had some ideas, but when we get together in a room some day I'm sure we'll hash it out and figure out exactly what it will be," he says.
Let Me In is out now in the UAE.