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'Let Me In' director talks about fears of remake backlash

Matthew Odam
modam@statesman.com

Though only a relatively small number of Americans might be familiar with 2008's Swedish vampire thriller "Let the Right One In," almost universally, those who have seen it love it.

As with a buzzy indie rock band or a burgeoning underground artist, original fans feel a need to protect the objects of their affection with an enthusiasm bordering on ownership.

"Cloverfield" director Matt Reeves realized when he agreed to remake Tomas Alfredson's cult smash that he would be facing skepticism and potential backlash. But a personal connection to the story inspired the man who had already mined the depths of coming-of-age and young love with his co-creation "Felicity."

With a script and visual aesthetic echoing the original, Reeves has created a stark, nerve-shattering thriller that explores the terrifying power of loneliness and love. His achievement can be credited in no small part to the performances by his young cast ... Chloe Moretz ("Kickass") as vampire Abby and Kodi Smit-McPhee ("The Road") as social outcast Owen.

We sat down with Reeves and Smit-McPhee last week during Fantastic Fest, where the movie screened before its nationwide opening Friday.

American-Statesman: People talk about the pressure of having to follow up 'Let the Right One In,' but at the same time, it also seems like a huge opportunity to work with this kind of material.

Reeves: What appealed to me was that the story was such a beautiful story. I so connected to that story of coming-of-age, which is really what the movie's about. It's a vampire movie on the surface, but it's this other thing. My first reaction, frankly, when they showed it to me in January of 2008 was to say that I didn't think they should do a remake. But then I read the novel, and they pursued the rights, and I fell in love with it. I thought I could see a way to translate it and be very faithful to the story but put it in an American context.

You obviously knew that fans of the original were very skeptical of a remake, however.

Reeves: There certainly was a lot of very passionate fan reaction (to the original movie), and understandably because it's an amazing movie, but then when they found out about the remake so soon after having seen it, there was a lot of negativity, and I have to say I understood it. Because I think that people have a very protective relationship with this story because they love it. And I felt the same way about it. I never thought in my mind that the movie was meant to replace or step on the original film, which I think is a masterful movie. It was meant to be this other interpretation of it and, hopefully, something that could sit alongside of it. For people who love this story, it's like another version they can watch. And I'm sure it will introduce people to the Swedish novel and the film, as well.

The bullying in the movie is almost as frightening for me as the vampire aspect.

Reeves: In the novel, (John Ajvide) Lindqvist had found a way to express the horror of adolescence by doing a horror story. Owen's life feels like a horror story. To me, the secret of the movie is the dread that's throughout the whole movie, which I was hoping would echo like the dread of American horror films I saw growing up, like "The Shining" or the beginning of "The Exorcist." To me, I think that the secret is that's what Owen feels all the time. The idea is that those scenes when he goes to school should be just as horrific as when Richard Jenkins goes out and stabs somebody in the neck or when Abby (the vampire) loses control. Because that's what this story is about.

How did you find working with young actors on such emotionally weighty and mature material?

Reeves: They're amazing. I was worried in setting out to cast the film in that, though this story is about adolescence, it's an adult story. It's clearly told from an adult perspective in that it embraces the complexity and the light and dark of it all. And so I knew that you need to be able to relate on an adult level to these kids. And I wondered who would be able to do that. And Kodi came in, and he was so real, and I was blown away. I actually truly felt relieved the day he came in, because I felt for the first time that we could make the movie. And the same thing happened with Chloe. A lot of the young girls who came in, they tried to play a vampire. And I wanted somebody to try and find the real-world analogy for what it was. I showed Chloe some photographs by Mary Ellen Mark of a young girl who was at the center of this homeless family, and I explained to her, "Here's this 12-year-old girl, and she's seen things and had to do things that no 12-year-old should have to be a part of." \u2026 And then we started doing the scene, and she played it in a very, very real way. I can't tell you how lucky we feel that we found these guys.

Kodi, you and Chloe obviously developed a strong chemistry, but were you ever scared of her on the set when she was dressed up as a vampire?

Smit-McPhee: We got along so great. But when she was dressed up, I saw her one night — and Matt and I could go on for a million years about "The Exorcist" and how scared we are of it — and she had blood coming out of her mouth, she had the teeth in, she had veins and warts ... and it just made me think of "The Exorcist," and it kinda freaked me out.

This movie seems to me to be about the powerlessness you have when love takes over. It reminded me of 'The Graduate,' with its ambiguity.

Reeves: A lot of people are worried that somehow the film has a dark ending or a cynical ending ... and that's a possibility. And others say that it is just happy ... and they choose to read it that way. But I read it exactly like you do, which is just like "The Graduate" — they're together and the big question is, "Now what?" It doesn't change the fact that you're happy that they're together because you see that they have this tenderness together. But the implication for what that means for the future is also potentially quite chilling.

modam@statesman.com