Norwegian director Thea Hvistendahl’s zombie movie “Handling the Undead,” premiering at Sundance and to be released in the U.S. by Neon, sees the reunion of Renate Reinsve and Anders Danielsen Lie, the stars of Oscar-nominated “The Worst Person in the World,” in a poetic, visually-charged chronicling of a hot summer’s day in Oslo when the dead mysteriously come back to life.
Hvistendahl’s feature debut, an adaptation of the eponymous novel by “Let the Right One In” author John Ajvide Lindqvist, is not your conventional zombie movie. “It’s very important to mention to people who are going to see it that they shouldn’t expect the regular zombie flick. I made the film with the zombie genre in mind, and wanted to subvert some of the classic tropes, but if people are only looking for a thrill, this film might not be it!,” quips the director.
The director credits her decision to have a toned down, dialogue-light genre film to wanting to make a “movie for the cinema.” “When you are trying to cover too much, it kind of fizzles out, so I gradually began removing more and more dialogue. You don’t need to feed your audience with unnecessary information. Since what’s happening is quite absurd, I felt like talking about it too much would remove the space for the audience to put themselves into the film.”
This stylistic choice, according to the director, was inspired by the likes of Lynne Ramsay and Lucile Hadžihalilović and is on par with Hvistendahl’s short films, often heavily stylized snapshots of a character’s mental decay. It was precisely the distinctive voice in Hvistendahl’s shorts that attracted Cannes best actress winner Renate Reinsve to “Handling the Undead.”
“[Thea] just does her own thing. She is very brave in her creative choices and I knew she was going to do something different, something special,” Reinsve tells Variety out of Sundance, where she arrives with not only “Handling the Undead” but Aaron Schimberg’s A24 psychological thriller “A Different Man,” in which she co-stars with Sebastian Stan.
Hvistendahl is well aware of the buzz surrounding the reunion of Reinsve and Danielsen Lie, and hopes people won’t be disappointed to learn the two don’t share a scene since they belong to different storylines within the film.
“When I cast the two, I didn’t know how big a success ‘The Worst Person in the World’ was going to be. Then I thought it was a bit wack that they didn’t play against each other [laughs], but they were definitely the best ones for the parts and we as a country don’t have a lot of actors to choose from. I think it’s good that people know them, and I understand that a lot of people are excited about seeing them together — it’s really lucky for me.”
The duo signed up for “Handling the Undead” before Joachim Trier’s “The Worst Person in the World” made a big splash at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival, with Danielsen Lie first telling Hvistendahl he and Reinsve were headed to the French Riviera during a camera test for the zombie movie three years ago.
Reinsve says of reuniting with Danielsen Lie: “We talked about it being a social realism film but going into a fantastical segment. We were very curious as to how we were going to do this and since the storyline moved us so much. We ended up connecting even though we don’t share a scene together.”
She adds that “The Worst Person in the World” was “life-changing for people, and for us as well,” and hopes people will be able to relate to Anna, her character in “Handling the Undead,” as much as they did with hopeless romantic Julie. “When I get into a character I try to be altruistic — it’s not about me, it’s about people connecting to this character.”
On top of having two films premiering at Sundance this year, Reinsve just finished shooting Halfdan Ullmann Tøndel’s “Armand” and will begin shooting her next collaboration with Trier in August, a family drama titled “Sentimental Value.”
Other projects in the pipeline include “The Governess,” the sophomore feature of “The Last Black Man in San Francisco” director Joe Talbot, alongside Lily-Rose Depp, and Piero Messina’s sci-fi “Another End,” starring Gael García Bernal and Bérénice Bejo.