TORONTO — Even though Matt Reeves's previous film was the cult favorite Cloverfield
, fans of Swedish director Tomas Alfredson's offbeat Let the Right One In
howled when they learned that the American director was remaking their darling for a Hollywood studio. They reviled him and the project online before the production even got under way. But Reeves was undaunted by the abuse. He had experienced similar treatment in his own life, having been bullied as a kid in school. Which is partly why he decided to make the film in the first place.
"I started writing it [the screenplay]," he told me at the Toronto International Film Festival, where he was promoting the film along with star Kodi Smit-McPhee, "and then it [the original film] came out in the US, and there was a huge response. I suddenly started thinking, 'Oh, there's now gonna be this laser focus on what we're doing.' But I blocked it out. Every once in a while I would look on the internet or something . . . "
Despite the negativity, Reeves persevered because he felt a kinship with the story, in which a 12-year-old boy is harassed by schoolmates and then makes friends with a mysterious girl who moves in next door. "What really blew me away was that it had taken a vampire story and managed to make it a story about the pain of adolescence. I didn't start out making movies with an interest in doing genre films, but the thing that I love about such films is that you can take the metaphor — whether it's a giant monster running around the city destroying the world [as in Cloverfield] or something like this — and you can sneak something in underneath it."
One difficult issue Reeves wanted to sneak in under the metaphor was the turmoil of adolescent sexuality. But he didn't want to do so à la Twilight. "There's this moment in a young person's life, this strange position where you're stuck in that area of innocence and also are in the midst of sexual discovery, and there's a lot of confusion. And I think the relationship in the film is incredibly innocent on a sexual level.
"True, Owen has sexual fascinations. I think he's drawn to the woman across the way [whom he spies on with a telescope]. All that is probably frightening and exciting for him, and so there's that aspect. But one of the things that makes the film so resonant — at least with me — is that it takes this innocence and juxtaposes it with a darker, more confusing impulse. So they have the scene where Owen and Abby are lying next to each other in bed, and I don't think you could really say that's a sexual scene. It's actually beautiful and innocent. But the fact that these two kids are lying next to each other makes the story very provocative and powerful."
Reeves knew that if he didn't cast the right actors, this fragile balancing of innocence and experience would fail. For the bullied Owen, he chose Australian Kodi Smit-McPhee, last seen in The Road. "It's not that Kodi is a great young actor," Reeves insists. "Kodi's a great actor."