It’s an uncomfortable position for any filmmaker to be in — having to defend your new movie against angry attacks while you’re still making it.
The director in the crosshairs is Matt Reeves and the movie in question is “Let Me In,” the American remake of the Scandinavian art-house hit “Let the Right One In.” Seen by many fans as something of an antidote to the broader passions of the “Twilight” series, the original 2008 film is a delicately told preteen horror-romance revolving around a lonely 12-year-old boy who discovers that the sweet, shy girl next door he has become smitten with is also a vampire.
From the moment that it was announced, Reeves’ “Let Me In,” scheduled to hit theaters this fall, has garnered intense scrutiny from the online genre community. Debates rage as to whether the project should even have been undertaken, and the writer-director — whose previous film was the frenetic camcorder monster movie “Cloverfield” — has been doing his best to assuage fan fears, recently participating in a panel discussion about horror films at the South by Southwest Film Festival.
A respectful devotee of both the original novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist as well as the first film, Reeves understands the concerns of those with strong feelings for the original. He had his own reservations about the remake and corresponded with Lindqvist, who also wrote the script for “Let The Right One In,” before taking on the project.
“I think because of ‘Cloverfield,’ people have an assumption, which is, ‘Oh, crazy handicam, he’s going to jazz it up,’ ” Reeves said. “And I think that’s probably what a lot of people were afraid of when they thought of the most cynical version. And that’s the last thing we tried to do. We tried to create the approaching, foreboding dread of movies like ‘The Shining,’ where you feel like something wicked is unraveling and it’s not going to end well. That’s what I responded to about the original, the juxtaposition of those tones, this very disturbing story but at the center of it there are these very tender emotions. That’s a very unusual mix, and that’s what drew me in and dug into me.”
In March, just a little more than a month after shooting wrapped in New Mexico on “Let Me In,” Reeves was fiddling with the controls on an editing console in a North Hollywood post-production facility. While confident about what he had captured on film and willing to show some scenes to a visiting journalist, he still seemed anxious, clearly wondering how others will respond to his version of this much-loved material.
Reeves’ own background — he co-created the TV show “Felicity” with boyhood friend J.J. Abrams and directed and co-wrote the 1996 David Schwimmer-Gwyneth Paltrow rom-com “The Pallbearer” — certainly lends itself more to character studies than hard-core action. Anyone expecting the frenetic pacing and whiplash visuals of “Cloverfield,” which did more than $160 million at the worldwide box office, will be shocked by his new film’s stillness, as well as the patient and exacting mood that Reeves is working to create.
“It’s a slow-burn kind of thing,” Reeves says of his take on the material, “which the original was, in a way.”
The casting alone should help quell fan trepidation that this is some sort of smash-and-grab adaptation. The central trio of characters — the boy, the girl and the man who takes care of her — are played by Kodi Smit-McPhee (“The Road”), Chloe Moretz (“Kick-Ass”) and Richard Jenkins (“The Visitor”).
Reeves was approached for the remake — distributed by Overture Films and produced by Exclusive Media Group’s relaunched Hammer Films — even before the Swedish film had opened in the United States. When that film was released to intense acclaim from stateside critics and fans, Reeves knew that the bar had been raised.
“It was doing all the things I am interested in, having gotten into genre films,” said Reeves. “One of the fun things about doing genre is you can kind of smuggle in real stuff, so it kind of charges the metaphor. It’s a giant monster coming down the street, but it’s really about anxiety. This is a vampire movie, but really it’s about the pain of adolescence. And that kind of thing is really exciting to me.”
When shooting his version of the scene in which the boy and girl first meet, in the courtyard of their apartment complex, Reeves captures much of what inspired such loyalty to the original — the emerging desire and confusion of early romantic feelings underscored by the tension of a horror tale. If there is something more, it will come in no small part from the assured performances by Smit-McPhee and Moretz.
Overall, Reeves wants the look of the film to have a startling naturalism, to evoke a stylized reality, and so he chose to work with the young Australian cinematographer Greig Fraser, who previously worked on Jane Campion’s evocative period drama “Bright Star.” Although there are some 300 visual effects shots in the film, Reeves instructed visual effects supervisor Brad Parker that he doesn’t want people to notice.
“In the same sense I want the photography to have this kind of messy realism, to be beautiful but gritty,” said Reeves, “I want the effects to feel believable. I want people to think back later and say, ‘I don’t even know if that’s an effect.’ I don’t want anything that pulls you out.
“It’s not going to feel like a movie with a crazy number of effects. It’s, hopefully, going to feel like an intimate coming-of-age story.”