Matt Reeves has the very difficult and not too popular task of remaking the wonderful Swedish vampire film Let The Right One In. He was taken to task on a SXSW panel when asked about his plans for the feature.
Moderator: I'd like to get onto a topic that is really volatile nowadays with horror fans, both open minded and close minded horror fans, and that is the topic of remakes. The knee-jerk reaction when you are inundated with remakes like, Sorority Row or Prom night, not something half decent like The Crazies, I mean just garbage. When you see that a wonderful film like Let The Right One In and you read an article that it's going to be remade, as a passionate horror fan, your first reaction is to be skeptical, and that's putting it lightly. But from what I've been reading I think it's safe to say that the gentlemen that are involved with the Let Me In remake are madly in love with the source material. And it isn't any kind of mercenary project. So Matt, what do you think about remakes?
Matt Reeves: I think that in the case of that, in my particular situation, and I actually think it's true of the remakes that I love. I love John Carpenter's The Thing, I think the original is really great and before it's time, really spooky and cool. And the remake is fantastic it's a great movie. I think it ultimately comes down to your respect and commitment to the material. I think that when people feel that they don't, and if I were on the same side I would think the same thing, that there's a kind of bastardization of the material. And that they just add explosions and one-liners, or do whatever might be "Americanizing" the story. In my case, I so responded to the story and it was actually way in advance of when the original film came out here. Then I read the novel and I wrote to the author and I told him that it just so reminded me of my childhood. I wrote to him and I said I'm so drawn to this material and they are talking about doing a remake. It's funny because the people who gave me the film to look at in the first place, they said, "take a look at this film, we think you might respond to it, we want to try and get the rights from the Swedish producers. And maybe you'll want to make the kids older." I watched it and here's my response, number one, if you make the kids older, you literally ruin the film. So please don't do that. Number two, I'm not sure you should remake this film.
Then I read the novel, and it just sort of dug into me. When I was doing Felicity, J.J. [Abrams] and I created the show and, of course, he did Alias, and that was the sort of trajectory that he went on. I did a pilot that didn't get made, which was a very personal story, which I've since turned into a feature. It was a coming of age story, a period piece about this kid who lived in this courtyard and there was a girl who lived in the building and they had these sort of halting exchanges. And I'm watching the movie [Let The Right One In] and I thought I'm so enamored and in love with these kids. And it turned out to be this brilliant vampire story which was much more brilliant than anything I tried to do. So when I wrote to the author [John Ajvide Lindqvist] I said I'm really drawn to this but not because it's a great genre story, which I do believe it is. It was really about my personal connection to. The author wrote me back and he was very kind and he said that he was a big fan of Cloverfield and it's because you've taken kind of an old story and done it in a fresh way and that's what I tried to do with this. But I'm much more excited to know that this touched you personally because it's my autobiography. It was the story of his childhood. I totally got it because that's what I related to. I related to the bully and the idea of being a child of divorce and growing up in the 80s. I think it comes down to, in terms of doing a remake, what your intentions are. Whether you're trying to do a rush shot or whether you bring something of yourself to it and committing to and respecting where the film comes from. I have such tremendous respect for that story. The original will always exist. You will always be able to see that film and I think it's kind of a masterpiece. The book also will always exist, but this is another interpretation of that story. Which hopefully people will give us a chance and we'll see how they feel about it. But it is very sort of intentioned in a respsectful way, while at the same time hoping to bring something new.
At the beginning of the book there's a great thing in the chapter that opens it. He talks about Blackeberg where Lindqvist, grew up, it's the story of his childhood and he describes the town as essentially what in America would be a considered a Tract Housing community, or like Levittown in World War 2 community. Everything was planned so the town was built all at once, and not over time so you could have organic history building. So they built this city and then you could imagine that all the residents came over on buses and bridges and arrived and that they all came in on the same day, of course that isn't what happened, this was a place with out history. One of the things about having history was that there wasn't a single church in this place. And that's why they were so unprepared for what was about to follow. Which is a great opening to the book. In the case of the story if we are going to take it and put it in an American context then the Tract housing makes total sense. But America in the 80s and America now is very different. It isn't sort of a godless suburbia. If I were a 12-year-old kid and I was harboring the thoughts that Oscar had because of the brutality of his life, and if I imagined killing my enemies, vicious thoughts. I think in an American context, Reagan was talking about the evil empire and that the evil is outside of us, and I became very drawn to the idea that the evil is within us. It's details like that. I think people think the whole Americanization thing is people coming in and adding lots of gratuitous stuff. In may case it's much more about context and honor the original story and find the way that it applies to the way we live, or I lived.
Anyway, a long-winded answer. To me it really comes down to the filmmakers commitment to what they're doing. And if they feel that they can do something to it, while honoring it and bringing something of themselves to it.
It's very long-winded, but we think we understand what Reeves is trying to communicate. More importantly, at least he's putting thought into his remake, and trying to come from a heartfelt place.