TV & Movies

Is Netflix's 'The Guilty' Based on a True Story?

Netflix’s The Guilty is an edge-of-your-seat thriller that has the kind of gritty realism that makes you wonder, “Wait…is this story possibly, real?” If that thought crossed your mind after watching the movie, you’re not only not alone, you’re joined by lots of other fans. You’ve also come to the right place. Keep scrolling for everything you need to know about just how true (or not) The Guilty is.

What is Netflix’s The Guilty about?

The Guilty stars Jake Gyllenhaal as Joe, a police detective who has been reassigned to work as a 911 operator and receives a call from a young woman named Emily (played by Riley Keough), who seems to have been abducted. During the call, Joe realizes that her call is coming from a white van that’s being driven by the abductor. Emily pretends to be talking to her daughter and helps relay important information to help the police find her. The movie is tensely plotted, slowly revealing information about Emily’s situation and Joe’s past.

Is The Guilty based on a true story?

The short answer is…kind of. The Guilty is actually a remake of a 2018 Danish film called Den Skyldige (which translates to The Guilty), which reportedly was based on true events. The original movie’s director, Gustav Möller, said it was inspired by a real 911 call he listened to on YouTube. In the actual 20-minute call that inspired the original movie, a kidnapped woman spoke to a 911 operator in code while sitting next to her abductor.

“It felt like I was seeing images just listening to sound. It felt like I had seen this woman,” he told Variety in 2018. “I had an idea of the car she was sitting in and the road they were driving on.”

Möller and his co-writer, Emil Nygaard Albertsen, used that real call as the inspiration for their script, which they hoped “would play out in different ways, in which everyone would have a unique experience, like watching their own film.”

In another interview in 2018, with CNET, Möller said that the podcast Serial also helped inspire the movie.

“What I felt listening to Serial was for every episode of that show my images of these people and locations will change, because I’ll get new information about the suspect and the victim,” he explained. “That is something we deliberately tried to work with in the film.”

Netflix’s The Guilty is a remake of the Danish film, but it adds in new elements (like the California wildfires that are blazing throughout the movie and the backstory that explains why Gyllenhaal’s character was put on 911 call duty). While both movies were inspired by a real emergency call, they’re not based on true stories. Instead, the filmmakers took the general, true idea of a kidnapped woman secretly giving a 911 operator clues about her situation, and then built totally fictional stories around that concept.

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