Swedish director Gustav Möller, in Sarajevo with his international festival hit “The Guilty,” is set to continue his genre-busting work with a new project in development after turning down an offer to direct a remake of his debut film.
“The Guilty” is a taut thriller about a police dispatcher, played by Jakob Cedergren, trying to help a kidnapped woman after receiving her emergency call. The pic has racked up a slew of awards on the international circuit since premiering at Sundance earlier this year and made a major splash at the Sarajevo Film Festival, where it received a rousing reception on Saturday.
Möller told Variety that there has been a lot of interest from around the world for remake rights to the film. But he himself has no interest in revisiting the “The Guilty.”
“I’ve been asked about remaking it myself in another language – you can guess which one – but I’m not interested in doing that,” he said. “Making a film has to be like an unanswered question. You have this challenge ahead of you that you are trying to resolve. When the film is done, the question is dead and the challenge is over.”
Möller is instead currently writing his next project, a modern-day genre film loosely based on true events. Like “The Guilty,” the new film, planned as a Scandinavian production, will break with traditional conventions.
“I definitely want to continue working in the tradition of genre film, but find an angle that hasn’t been seen before. I need a concept, an angle, because I’m not interested in just making a three-act-structure film. I can’t invest several years just to do that,” he said, adding: “What I want to do is work with genre film in a way that uses it to draw audiences in, not only to entertain them but also to challenge their world-views and introduce complex subject matter.”
Möller’s biggest inspiration for “The Guilty” wasn’t a film but a podcast: Sarah Koenig and Julie Snyder’s “Serial,” about the 1999 murder of a U.S. high school student in Maryland and the arrest and conviction of her ex-boyfriend for the crime.
“With every episode I got new information about the people involved and the places and occurrences. With every episode my image of these people changed,” he said. “That was a direct inspiration that me and my co-writer talked about: how to organically add information and organically have the images change throughout the film.”
As for cinematic inspiration, Möller cites Sidney Lumet’s “Dog Day Afternoon.” “The whole feel of that film, the nerve-racking stress that is in that film – that inspired the way we shot the film, using several cameras during very long takes.”
Möller got the idea for “The Guilty” after listening to a YouTube clip of a real emergency 911 call from a kidnapped woman in a car who spoke to the dispatcher in code while sitting next to her kidnapper. He was struck by how suspenseful listening to a 20-minute phone call could be. “It felt like I was seeing images just listening to sound. It felt like I had seen this woman; I had an idea of the car she was sitting in and the road they were driving on.”
Intrigued by the fact that everyone listening to the same audio clip was seeing different images, Möller and co-writer Emil Nygaard Albertsen set out to write a story “that would play out in different ways, in which everyone would have a unique experience, like watching their own film.”
Möller sought to make a film that starts off as a crime thriller, complete with stereotypes and a familiar story, in order to draw in audiences, but which “then transcends into something more existential.” The film’s limited setting in a police dispatch center and his paltry budget of €500,000 ($570,671) were in reality “a gift, because it makes you work harder and think outside of the box in how to create suspense.”
The film also boasts a powerful performance by Cedergren. “He’s a fantastic actor. He has this quality – there’s a sense of mystery about him; it’s like he’s keeping a secret from you, and that’s what I needed for this part.”
The film’s next stop is Austin’s Fantastic Fest in September before its U.S. release this fall via Magnolia Pictures.