The Perils Of Remaking A Beloved Swedish Vampire Film

Matt Reeves made his name in Hollywood by directing the movie Cloverfield. After it became a surprise hit, he picked an unusual challenge: Doing the English-language remake of a Swedish vampire flick that had just become a cult classic. NPR's Guy Raz speaks with writer/director Reeves about the new film Let Me In.

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GUY RAZ, host:

When the blockbuster monster movie "Cloverfield" was released in early 2008, the director, Matt Reeves, was already shopping his next project to production companies. But one of those companies, Overture Films, wasn't that interested. Instead, they had a different suggestion. They wanted him to remake a foreign film but in English, and they handed him a DVD.

Mr. MATT REEVES (Director, "Let Me In"): It was "Let the Right One In."

RAZ: That Swedish film, directed by Thomas Alfredson, was based on a book of the same name. The story follows two 12-year-olds, a boy, who was plagued by bullies, and the strange girl he befriends, only she has a secret: she's a vampire.

Mr. REEVES: I watched it, and I could tell immediately that I was incredibly drawn to the coming-of-age story between those two kids. And then I start watching further, and it's a vampire tale, and I'm like, okay, this is genius.

What Lindqvist did in the novel was that he took the sort of cover of a vampire story to tell a story about his childhood.

RAZ: You're talking about John Lindqvist, who wrote the novel...

Mr. REEVES: Yes.

RAZ: ...and then adapted this for film. And it became this cult classic.

Mr. REEVES: Yes.

RAZ: So you watch this film. You're like, oh, my God. This is incredible. I'm going to do this, and then...

Mr. REEVES: No. The first thing I said was, no.

RAZ: You said (unintelligible).

Mr. REEVES: I called him up the next day. I said, this is great. But they said to me, well, you know, we really think that we could take this story and bring it to an audience that sadly just won't see a foreign language film.

RAZ: But you said no.

Mr. REEVES: And I said, you know, I just think it's a great movie, so...

RAZ: It's perfect. It doesn't need to be redone.

Mr. REEVES: It was just wonderful. But it did stick with me in such a way that I read the novel. And then, in the novel, it was sort of talking about growing up in the suburbs in the '80s, at the same time that I was growing up.

And suddenly, I thought, well, maybe there's a way to not step on the toes of this film so much, to be very faithful to Lindqvist's story but to put it sort of in the context that sort of I remembered from growing up at that time.

I write the script, the movie comes out, and it becomes...

RAZ: The Swedish movie comes out.

Mr. REEVES: Yeah, the Swedish movie comes out...

RAZ: Yeah.

Mr. REEVES: ...and it is embraced in a way that is enormous. I was suddenly worried. But by that point, I had written the script, and I felt very passionately connected to it. And I just figured that I needed to go back underground and not sort of pay attention to anything that was going on and hope that if we made this in this way that was kind of a labor of love for all of us that we'd have something worthwhile.

RAZ: There's a moment in your version where Owen confronts Abby. In the Swedish version, his name is Oskar, and her name is Eli. It's a similar scene. And I want to play two versions of it, and this is where he sort of realizes she's a vampire.

(Soundbite of movie, "Let the Right One In")

Mr. KARE HEDEBRANT (Actor): (As Oskar) (Foreign language spoken)

(Soundbite of movie, "Let Me In")

Mr. KODI SMIT-McPHEE (Actor): (As Owen) Are you a vampire?

(Soundbite of movie, "Let the Right One In")

Ms. LINA LEANDERSSON (Actor): (As Eli) (Foreign language spoken)

(Soundbite of movie, "Let Me In")

Ms. CHLOE MORETZ (Actor): (As Abby) I need blood.

RAZ: So what we've done here is we've taken the original Swedish version and then your version. And, you know, we hear in Swedish, are you a vampire, and then in English, are you a vampire. I need blood to live.

Mr. REEVES: Yes.

RAZ: It is identical.

Mr. REEVES: Mm-hmm.

RAZ: Did you feel like it was important to do it in that way rather than to maybe take it in a different direction?

Mr. REEVES: Well, you know, the thing about it is that the stuff that is very, very faithful to what is in Alfredson's film is the stuff that really is very, very faithful to the book.

The script was written by Lindqvist, and he adapted his own novel. And so, there were certain aspects of it, like that scene in particular, which is definitely right out of the book.

But there's also been some question, oh, is it a shot-for-shot remake. My crew, my actors, none of these people had seen the movie.

RAZ: Yeah, that's amazing. You asked them not to watch the Swedish version before you started shooting the English language version of it, and yet some of the scenes really seem like they must have watched them.

Mr. REEVES: It's not a shot-for-shot remake, but there are places where in a certain way it's a scene-for-scene remake. There are definitely scenes that are in the novel and in the Swedish film that are in our film.

RAZ: There's a scene in the film where Abby crawls into bed with Owen. These are, we should be reminded, they're 12-year-old kids.

(Soundbite of movie, "Let Me In")

Mr. SMIT-McPHEE: (As Owen) You're not wearing anything. You're freezing.

Ms. MORETZ: (As Abby) Is that gross?

Mr. SMIT-McPHEE: (As Owen) No.

RAZ: It's a really tender moment but also potentially uncomfortable for the audience, and even, I suppose, for you as a director. How do you handle moments like that?

Mr. REEVES: Well, I mean, obviously, we were very careful on the set. And Chloe was actually wearing a body suit, so she wasn't actually fully naked. But the thing about it is that the content of that scene is incredibly tender.

(Soundbite of film, "Let Me In")

Mr. SMIT-McPHEE: (As Owen) Abby?

Ms. MORETZ: (As Abby) Yeah?

Mr. SMIT-McPHEE: (As Owen) Will you go steady with me?

Ms. MORETZ: (As Abby) What do you mean?

Mr. SMIT-McPHEE: (As Owen) Will you be my girlfriend?

Ms. MORETZ (Actor): (As Abby) Owen, I'm not a girl.

Mr. REEVES: And so it's a very innocent scene, and it's one of the things I loved about the book and about the story is just that it's this juxtaposition of that purity, that kind of innocence of being at that age, along with the sort of darker impulses and the darker aspects of our nature that start to come out. And that sort of contradiction and juxtaposition is throughout the story.

RAZ: Matt Reeves, "Let Me In," I'm sure to your great relief, has been very well received by critics. In some cases, they've called this better than the original. But you must have been nervous about the sort of the blogosphere fans, because there is a real kind of intense connection to this film.

Mr. REEVES: Yes.

RAZ: And, you know, the vampire crowd is a pretty tough crowd.

Mr. REEVES: The thing about it is that I know that there'll be people who loved that film who will not give us a chance, and that's completely fine. We've been fortunate enough that people are discovering and enjoying the film, but I know that that's something that is going to take time, probably.

RAZ: That's Matt Reeves. He's the writer and director of the new film, "Let Me In." He joined me from our studios at NPR West.

Matt, thank you so much.

Mr. REEVES: My pleasure. Thank you.

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