With his debut feature The Guilty, Gustav Möller creates a whole universe in just one room.
This tense, self-contained thriller had a very buzzy world premiere in Sundance’s World Dramatic Competition (where Magnolia picked up North American rights) and will screen from Jan 29 at International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR), where it is part of the Big Screen Competition.
The film is set in just one location – an emergency services dispatch center in Copenhagen - but it vividly inspires the viewer’s imagination to fill in the gaps at other locations. The plot is simple, as an alarm dispatcher and former police officer (played by Jakob Cedergren) receives increasingly disturbing calls from a kidnapped woman.
The story was inspired by a real American 911 call Moller discovered on YouTube. “I was gripped at how you could be just listening to a phone call for 20 minutes. Later I started reflecting on how the images I had made in my mind would be different to anyone else listening to the same call. That fascination became the starting point for the film,” the director recalls.
Moller, a 29-year-old Swede living in Denmark, and co-writer Emil Nygaard Albertsen sat in on several night shifts at a real dispatch center while they were writing the script.
Moller says of the film’s genesis, “The idea was to start the film out as a genre film where you have expectations of good and bad, you start off with archetypes and as the film progresses, there is more of a grey area. Where there is reality, there isn’t just good and evil. We wanted to play with genre and play with people’s expectations of genre.”
Sound work was especially crucial, and some of the sounds on the phone calls were recorded on location, for instance in a police car on a highway. “The sound is a huge part of it, it’s like you’re doing half of the production design and cinematography in the sound editing room.”
The cast was game for the unusual approach of the film. “For Jakob, he was intrigued by the challenge to carry every frame of the film…For me, what really made Jakob right for the part is his eyes. It’s like he’s is keeping a secret from you, but at the same time you can read a lot from just looking at his eyes.”
”Jakob enhances the whole idea of us bringing our own images [to the story], he’s like a portal to that,” he continues.
The Guilty is produced by Lina Flint, Moller’s former classmate at the famed National Film School of Denmark. It marks the first production from Spring, the new talent development initiative backed by Nordisk.
The team shot the film in just 13 days, with the production fully financed by the Danish Film Institute’s New Danish Screen.
TrustNordisk handles sales; Nordisk will release in Denmark (where the film is selected for the audience-boosting Cinema Club) in June 2018.
The Guilty announces Möller’s intentions to turn genre on its head, and he’s already at work on an atypical heist story script. He says he’s inspired by everything from Dog Day Afternoon to Pulp Fiction and Taxi Driver. “I want to make genre films that experiment with both form and subject matter.”