Opening this weekend in Sweden was Psalm 21, a psychological horror-thriller directed by actor Fredrik Hiller. Many horror films’ starting point is religion, and this film deals directly with the director’s own religious experiences.
Psalm 21 opened November 5 in theatres in Sweden, and is about Henrik, a priest, who has been plagued by nightmares for a while. One day he finds out that his father, who is also a priest, has died under mysterious circumstances in a small Northern Sweden town. Henrik travels there and starts to suspect that his father has been killed. The search for what happened is intertwined with Henrik’s nightmares, and also horrifying daytime visions.
Fredrik Hiller, and actor-turned director (who also wrote the film) started working on his film idea almost 20 years ago, and turned it into a short 10 years ago, called Psalm 94. Finding a producer who believed in the film was very difficult, and without a producer there was no money to get from the Swedish Film Institute. The film is Hiller’s first feature film and he thinks that was a bigger problem for financers than the film being a horror film. Hiller compares his film to Let the right one in, which (according to him) proves you can add a more serious drama approach to horror and still make it work.
Horror films about demons and ghosts and Christian messages is not something new, but to make such a film in Sweden is rather unusual. However, Psalm 21 is not a coincidence, as Hiller based the film on himself. As a young man, he joined what he calls a Christian sect, and when he was about to take a plane trip shortly before getting his baptism, a reverend said to him; “You know you are going to hell if the plane crashes?”. -I could not believe in a god who was less merciful than myself. To liberate myself, I wrote a script which became a short film, which later became this feature, Hiller said to the website Filmnyheterna. The other thing that inspired Hiller to write Psalm 21 is that many years ago he started to have ideas about his mother comaing back to haunt him. Hiller’s mother died when he was a child, and even though he did not know why she would come back to get her revenge, he thought that if those visions scared him, maybe they would scare other people too. -I had a dream that I would make this film and free myself from this horror. Which it did. It happened a Tuesday in the second week of shooting. I got home, and then I just knew… the horror is gone, Hiller explains to MovieZine.
Psalm 21 is a low budget film and cost only 1.2 million SEK to make (around 120.000 euros). Even so, there are many established and well known actors participating. Jonas Malmsjö, Per Ragnar, Lena B. Eriksson, Görel Crona, Björn Bengtsson, Josefin Ljungman and Julia Dufenius star. Hiller was able to negotiate smaller fees than usual, in return for profit sharing. However, Hiller claims that if you count all the work that was put into the film by himself, collaborating companies and actors, the film looks more like a 16 million SEK production (1.6 million euros). As an actor, Hiller has done quite a few voice-overs for major animated movies, including one of the original English voices in Robert Zemeckis’ Beowulf. That job was so well paid that it provided major portions of the funding for Psalm 21.
Fredrik Hiller’s next film may also be in the horror genre. He’s now finishing a pilot/trailer for a film called Zon 261, a zombie feature based on the actual political situation in Sweden right now, where racism is gaining a foothold in certain communities.