Let Us In Star Tobin Bell on Introducing a New Generation to Horror

The subject matter of the horror genre and its tendency to dive deep into unsettling concepts [...]

The subject matter of the horror genre and its tendency to dive deep into unsettling concepts often results in such films being geared towards adults, but with the new film Let Us In, not only are the scares geared towards younger audiences, it also stars young performers, feeling more like a terrifying tale for and by burgeoning fans. When it comes to contemporary horror films, few are as known for their brutality as the Saw series, in which Tobin Bell appeared in all but the most recent Spiral: From the Book of Saw. Let Us In hits VOD and Digital HD on July 2nd.

In Let Us In, a spirited twelve-year-old girl and her best friend start investigating the sudden disappearances of several missing teens in their small town. Realizing there might be something deeper happening, Emily and Christopher might be up against forces they can't even imagine.

ComicBook.com recently caught up with Bell to talk his interest in the project, working with his young co-stars, and his lack of involvement in Spiral: From the Book of Saw.

let us in movie tobin bell
(Photo: Samuel Goldwyn Films)

ComicBook.com: The opening of this film addresses the real-life phenomenon of the sightings of children with black eyes. Not specifically those sightings, but in general, do you find yourself a believer in the paranormal?

Tobin Bell: Well, I'm not sure if I believe in the paranormal, but I can tell you this, there's all kinds of stuff that we don't know. We try to control our existence as human beings, but frankly, I think there's a whole bunch of stuff that we don't know about, whether it's energy, for example, and how to create energy and how to do things cleaner and more efficiently, which we're kind of learning. We're learning so much in the spiritual realm.

I didn't know anything about black-eyed kids prior to doing this film, that was an urban legend, but I know about it now. And I've talked to people since then, and they knew about it, because of where they grew up, it was a popular belief. And I guess it just wasn't where I was raised in Massachusetts, and I had never heard of it before I did this film.

I also grew up in Massachusetts and it feels like there's just a supernatural way of life that's a given for anyone who is from there.

Right. Massachusetts has got a whole bunch of actual historical truths. And, of course, even the Salem witch trials have taken on an elevated, spiritual thing.

When I got asked to do this film by Craig Moss, I was particularly fascinated by this character, Mr. Munch, who was a bit of a recluse and a hermit. Yet at the same time, in the scenes with the kids, there's a certain depth to him, I don't know how to describe it, a certain sadness to him that draws you in. And I think it provides a nice contrast to the effervescence of the kids. I love how the film plays out. The rhythms of the film are well done. I think Craig did a good job. And the actors, a large majority of which are young people, were pretty remarkable. Some of them [younger] than others, but Makenzie [Ziegler], who plays Emily, was just remarkable.

Part of what I dug is that, not only are the scares a little tamer, but it also features confident young characters, so it feels geared towards younger horror fans.

Exactly. I agree. I felt the same way about it.

Some people get into horror way too young and it scars them, but you've been meeting Saw fans for almost 20 years, do you meet a lot of fans who know you as Jigsaw who are a lot younger than you expected?

It's surprising. I have parents come up to me with their kids and they say, "We all climb into bed together and watch all those Saw movies." And the kid is like five years old, six years old. There's no accounting for people's restrictions, or perception, or what they think is okay, what they think is not okay. I'll say to the kid, "Well, did they scare you?" and they go, "No. I wasn't scared." So, it's really hard to say, because there's so many different ways of looking at it. I would certainly not be showing those films to a five-year-old, or a six-year-old, but these parents thought nothing of it and the kid looked fine. He didn't look like he suffered from it. So it's hard to make judgments about it.

Part of the authenticity of appealing towards a younger audience is the slang in the film. I wondered if you were able to understand some of those phrases while you were reading the script or watching the movie, or if you had to have someone explain, "What does 'on fleek' mean?"

Yeah, a couple of times, I must say. I was actually watching it alone, so I had no one to ask. But yeah, there's a couple of really good lines in it, one of which, the scene that I have with [the character who] tries to fist bump me, and I don't respond. He says, "Yeah. Well, I'm a bit of a germaphobe myself. See you later." He thinks I don't want to fist bump him because I don't want to touch him.

Since this is geared towards a younger audience, both with its narrative and in tone, I wondered what you thought about the importance of telling young audiences these scary stories?

I'm so glad you felt that, because I did, too. Grimm's fairytales, there's a lot of scary stuff. We've been raised on scary stories. Little Red Riding Hood is a scary fricking story. So kids like scary stories around the campfire. They like it, and it scares them. They don't all like it at the same time, which is like life. You can have multiple feelings in the same moment.

So the fact that this is an entry film, I'm happy to grow a new crop of horror people, because I have so appreciated the enthusiasm of horror fans when I meet them. Which, if you go to one of these conventions, you meet them by the thousands, and they are so devoted to the genre, unlike any other genre. Whether it's romantic comedy, historical drama, none of those genres capture the enthusiasm that horror does for fans. And the only other is maybe sci-fi, like Star Wars, that kind of thing. But there's a passion around horror. So if we're growing a new crop of fans with a film like this, so be it. It was fun for me. It was fun playing the piano at the beginning of that scene.

Speaking to passionate fans, of course you have such a large following from your work on the Saw films, and Spiral just came out, which you weren't in, but director Darren Lynn Bousman said he was considering a cameo from you up until the end of production, or even including a song you recorded as a nod to John Kramer's legacy. I wondered if you'd seen the film or were aware that he wanted you for the cameo?

I haven't gotten to see the film yet. And I was aware of that, but I think eventually they put their heads together and decided [not to do it]. Chris Rock is a very creative guy. So with Chris, maybe they felt like they just had enough. I don't know. I haven't seen the film, so I don't have an idea. But I can tell you that the creative minds behind Saw are not asleep. And, hopefully, we'll be able to move forward with something that's both refreshing and answers some questions that need answering.

So I don't have anything I can say to you conclusively, but I can only tell you that I was aware of all of that. And I'm not surprised that it was going on. How'd you feel about Spiral? Did you see it?

Yeah, I liked how Chris explained he wanted to do a traditional Saw movie, but just add some genuine jokes into it, and that's what it felt like. The first 45 minutes were a buddy-cop experience, but then it turns into the more gruesome elements you expect from the franchise.

Well, that seems cool.

Well since Spiral has deviated from the John Kramer storyline directly and has expanded, is there a direction you'd like to see the franchise take that you'd like to just sit back and watch as a fan? Whether it be a spinoff or prequel?

All I can say to that is John Kramer, in my view, is huge. He is a King Lear-sized guy, and there's all of these questions about him that remain unanswered that would be a whole lot of fun to answer. And one of the things I've tried to do with that is to always bring some depth, philosophically whatever, whether it has to do with appreciating your life. Because the fans don't talk a lot when I meet them about the traps, or about the twists. They talk about the concepts in the films. They say, "I watched that film at a point in time where I really needed to realize to stop feeling sorry for myself and be grateful for how incredibly lucky I am. And so, I've been working on that and thank you." That sort of thing.

I feel like the concepts in the film, and now obviously it's a horror film, and the fans love the scares and the traps and all of that, but they also love some of the threads that run through the films. And those threads resonate with them.

I had eight or nine kids on skateboards come to me and say, "You're the guy. Right?" And I say, "Yeah." And they say, "I love those films." I say, "Oh, yeah? What do you love about them?" And they said, "They teach us stuff." I said, "Like what?" And they said, "Well, when you said to that guy, 'If you knew the exact moment of your own death, how would that change how you live your life?'" And these are 12-year-olds, and I'm like, "Oh, I'm glad you told me that," because that's why I do them, to try to find the places within the films, where more is revealed about what's going on through John's head.


Let Us In hits VOD and Digital HD on July 2nd.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. You can contact Patrick Cavanaugh directly on Twitter.