"Let Me In" Director Matt Reeves Talks Technique, Satan and "Taxi Driver"
Sat, 02 Oct 2010 10:51:39
Let Me In is easily one of the best films of the past ten years.
Director Matt Reeves has pieced together a symphony of suspense that teeters between an elegant dream and a godless nightmare. Let Me In tells a heart-wrenching tale of loneliness and revenge that audiences haven't felt in a long time—perhaps since Martin Scorsese and Robert DeNiro went to the depths of Hell with Taxi Driver. The film follows a tormented young boy Owen [Kodi Smit-McPhee] who befriends a centuries-old vampire named Abby [Chloe Morez]. The relationship that ensues is classically flawed and undeniably unforgettable. When you wake up from Reeves' dream, you won't be the same, and that's the mark of classic filmmaking.
Let Me In director Matt Reeves sat down for an exclusive interview with ARTISTdirect.com editor and Dolor author Rick Florino about parallels between Let Me In and Taxi Driver, his filmmaking techniques, classical music that influenced him and why the Devil is just under the film's surface.
Did you want to conjure a dreamy atmosphere for Let Me In from the get-go?
Visually, I wanted Let Me In to feel more intimately involved with Owen's point of view. I wanted the film to have a classical, almost Hitchcockian suspense style—like Rear Window. It's close on Owen. You see what he sees, and it's a bit voyeuristic. On the other hand, I really wanted to shoot the movie anamorphically because I wanted it to visually reflect Owen's emotional state. I wanted there to be a shallow depth of feel, so we do that stuff where you can't quite see his mother's face because he feels this emotional distance. There were two levels. There's this anamorphic shallow focus style that makes the film more dreamlike. It's an uncanny feel that taps into the darker side of things. Then there's an attempt to ground it through point-of-view, so you feel what Owen feels in those scenes. That was the approach.
The distance between Owen and his mother and, consequentially, everything else in the world remains tangible. The audience watches Owen's transformation more than anything.
That's what I wanted to do! It's interesting that you say that about the distance because, if anything, we were trying to find a way to put you inside of Owen's head utilizing that point-of-view. He feels like he can't connect with his mother. The idea of that shallow focus mirrors being inside somebody's head.
The bullying scenes were so gut-wrenching. They were worse than some of the gorier moments.
That was the point. I felt that John Ajvide Lindqvist [Author] was saying that this story was a metaphor for the horror of growing. His particular nightmare was this constant bullying and humiliation. I thought it was critical that the horror of the film be just as strong in the bullying scenes because that was the real source of his horror and pain. The movie and book are so much about dread and waiting. If you were a kid and you knew that every day you went to school somebody was waiting for you to torture you, humiliate you, mock you and hurt you, it would be a terrifying experience. I felt that those scenes needed to be, in their way, as brutal as Richard Jenkins stringing kids up and draining them of their blood.
Abby is this evil puppet master, who is still somehow sympathetic.
There's no question that she has an evil side. In fact, that's what's so interesting about Lindqvist's conception. It allows for the idea of the evil within all of us, yet he also finds the humanity. I love the idea of seeing Richard Jenkins as a serial killer to begin with, and then peeling the levels away until you realize the tragedy of his character. With Abby's character, people have said, "She's totally manipulative, and she doesn't have feelings for him." I actually don't feel that way. Why can't she both? Why can't she be incredibly lonely, see something in Owen, connect with him and really have love for him? At the same time, why can't she also have this primal side that is incredibly evil and vicious and a dichotomy to that? She also has needs. She needs to survive, and she does need help. In the book, I don't get the sense that she's a 12-year-old who has a 250-year-old woman inside of her who's like a schemer. Rather, she's someone who was attacked 250 years ago and so was stuck internally at the age of 12. She's stuck in that level of emotional development. She never really got past that. There's something sad about that idea she'd never fully mature, even her emotion and brain would not go past that point. She learned how to be a survivor and get by, but she's still vulnerable in the way that a kid is vulnerable. She can't control these things. I thought that was a great metaphor for adolescence, when your body starts to change and things are out of control. It's evident in the way we depicted her. She didn't have fangs. The idea is similar to how your teeth go crazy after you lose your baby teeth. We made those teeth look like adolescence gone wrong. Her skin has lots of acne. All of that was an attempt to show the state she's in. She has levels of evil, but she's also human. To me, that's what makes the story so provocative. The end of the movie is chilling, but it's also like the horror version of The Graduate. Boy gets girl. There they are together. There is a part of you that wants them to be together, but the big question is, "Now what?" That's the cool thing about the story. I don't like to wage one over the other. I like the gray, ambiguous mix of it all.
That portrait of isolation and loneliness definitely evokes Taxi Driver.
That's definitely one of the movies that we watched! I'm obsessed with Taxi Driver. The second half of that movie is so intensely violent. It's weird because that see where Elias is in the bathroom during Let Me In totally reminds me of something from Taxi Driver—that blood splatter section. The first half of Taxi Driver is the most vivid portrait of loneliness, dislocation and separation from the world that I've ever seen. It's so beautifully told in terms of point of view. It's amazing that you see any of that in there because it's definitely a film that I watched as inspiration—again probably for the 50th time [Laughs]. It's funny because people say that movie is so violent and dark. Even though Travis Bickle does these horrendous things, he's heartbreaking. He doesn't know how to fit in with other people. He's so apart from the world, and he's so damaged. Martin Scorsese and Robert DeNiro managed to depict him in a way that's he's frightening, fascinating and quite sad.
There's a real rhythm to the film. Does it remind you of any songs?
I totally think that filmmaking is about rhythm. I always think of making movies like writing music. To me, when we're cutting and shooting, I'm feeling a rhythm. The movement of the camera contributes to that. I didn't have any particular songs in mind, but there was a piece of music that I listened to obsessively during the writing of the film. It's this piece by Arvo Pärt called "Spiegel im Spiegel" from an album called Alina. I would listen to it over and over again. In fact, I find that sound is a really important aspect of these movies. Cloverfield is defined by what you don't see and you're hearing instead. Suspense and horror depend upon that a lot too. Rosemary's Baby and The Exorcist use sound amazingly. My Cloverfield sound guys—who did the sound for Let Me In—had me come up to Skywalker Ranch and write. Skywalker was intended as not only a place where you would do sound, but also where people might come to write. While I was up there, they put together soundscapes for me. They combined "Spiegel im Spiegel" with the sound of winter winds and created a track. I listened to it on an endless loop while I was writing.
Who do you usually listen to?
It depends on the mood of what I'm trying to do. I listen to "Spiegel im Spiegel" a lot actually. I also like Coldplay. I love to listen to The Rolling Stones. The music provides an emotional space you can write in.
There's an undercurrent of Satanism in the film that's very chilling.
While Lindqvist's tale was a fantasy, it was a very realistic story. That really got me. It tried to get reactions that people would really have in the circumstances. The last thing anybody would say is, "It must be a vampire!" [Laughs] That's the most "movie" thing ever. If you looked at these killings from the outside—with the blood draining and what looks like ritualistic serial killing—it would look like Satanism. I was remembering that, in setting the film in the '80s, there was what we referred to in retrospect as "Satanic panic." There was a lot of talk about Satanism. I remember people would play "Stairway to Heaven" backwards and things like that! There was a big fascination with Satanism in the '80s. I thought this would be a way to depict it realistically and make it part of that world I remember.
Will you be seeing Let Me In this weekend?
For more "Let Me In" check out our review of the movie here!