• Jakob Cedergren in 'The Guilty' (SBS Movies)Source: SBS Movies
A single-location, low-budget Danish thriller that delivers the kind of suspense Hollywood could only dream of.
By
reuters.com

Source:
Reuters
10 Sep 2019 - 2:47 PM  UPDATED 3 Jun 2022 - 4:47 PM

Reviewed by Guy Lodge for Variety from the 2018 Sundance FIlm Festival.

"Tom Hardy in Locke meets Halle Berry in The Call" sounds like the kind of absurd pitch you'd hear from an over-zealous fictional producer in a broad Tinseltown satire -- yet it's not entirely the wrong number for The Guilty, a high-concept, low-budget and skillfully muscle-tensing Danish thriller to which you can imagine more than a couple of eager Tinseltown execs angling for the remake rights.

Anchored by a performance of sturdy, simmering resolve by the reliable Jakob Cedergren, as an emergency police dispatcher who picks up on a kidnapping case with more than meets the ear, Gustav Moller's short, taut debut feature never leaves the claustrophobic confines of the call center, but builds a vivid aural suspense narrative through the receiver, all while incrementally unboxing the visible protagonist's own frail mental state. Notwithstanding some forgivable contrivances in the otherwise tidy execution, international distributors are likely to speed-dial The Guilty following its competition berths in Sundance and Rotterdam.

Only a few minutes into The Guilty -- which operates swiftly with its storytelling throughout, clocking in at a crisp 85 minutes -- hints are dropped that strong, sharp-jawed Asger (Cedergren) isn't the sympathetic ear you'd typically find on the other end of a 911 call. "It's your own fault, isn't it?" he chides one inebriated, paranoid caller; later, he advises the cop he's dispatching to another mild emergency to "let him sit and stew in it a bit." No surprise, then, that manning the phones turns out not to be his original duty. A police officer who has been removed from the beat for reasons only gradually implied, Asger's psychological fuse is evidently on the short side -- only one of several contributing sources of tension in this tightly wound chamber piece.

He snaps more dedicatedly to attention, however, when he takes an initially cryptic call from Iben (Jessica Dinnage, never seen but a shivery, affecting vocal presence), a young mother of two insinuating that she's been kidnapped by her volatile ex-husband Michael (Johan Olsen). Her call, made from the van in which he's driving her to an unknown destination, triggers some fast-on-his-fingers detective work from Asger, as he simultaneously attempts to pinpoint her moving location and backtrack to the possible circumstances of her abduction -- a trail that leads to a bigger picture of horrifying domestic unrest. To say much more would be to interfere with the film's expert wrangling of its audience's collective suspicions: Moller, who shares screenplay credit with Emil Nygaard Albertsen, staggers his revelations so as to keep the viewer's mind's-eye impression of Iben's plight at once palpable and malleable, the human stakes and concerns of the drama shifting with each excavated detail.

You wouldn't expect a film set in real time, across two poky adjoining rooms, would have much space for A and B storylines. Yet The Guilty -- the loaded title of which, needless to say, can be applied to multiple characters in this unhappy scenario -- braids them rather deftly, cluing us ever more into Asger's personal and professional crises as the situation at hand spirals out of his deskbound control. (Only on occasion do these respective breakdowns seem too neatly or implausibly twinned, or veer too far into maverick-cop cliche.) Amid passing mentions of a pending court case and previous workplace discord, a shadow of police brutality is slowly shaded into his background.

If the film operates as both a quick procedural thriller and a slower-burning character study, its mystery is shared across both modes. Shot mostly in peering, invasive closeup by cinematographer Jasper Spanning, Cedergren carries the whole with tight-nerved physical and vocal intensity, progressively externalising the rage of a character who tries his best not to be read; it's his most generous showcase since Thomas Vinterberg's Submarino. Meanwhile, Spanning and production designer Gustav Pontoppidan light and design the office space with appropriately utilitarian drabness, giving the imagination little inclination -- nor much room -- to wander from Asger and his stern, strained brow.

It's sound editor Oskar Skriver, however, who makes the most of the film's minimalist setup, brilliantly filling in a highly specific sonic atmosphere of on-the-hoof panic on the other end of the line, and playing it effectively against the dead air of the call center. As in Steven Knight's aforementioned, phone-driven man-in-a-jam exercise Locke, there's an element of The Guilty that would work as a bang-up radio play, though you'd miss the drama playing out across our troubled hero's stoically tormented expression: Visually, it's a near-one-man-show, only with multiple lives hanging in the balance.

 

 

Watch 'The Guilty'

Thursday 9 June, 11:10pm on SBS World Movies
Friday 10 June, 10:00am on SBS World Movies
Saturday 11 June, 3:40am on SBS World Movies

Now streaming at SBS On Demand

M
Denmark, 2018
Genre: Drama, Crime, Thriller
Language: Danish
Director: Gustav Moller
Starring: Jakob Cedergren, Jessica Dinnage, Omar Shargawi, Johan Olsen

MORE AT SBS:
Feel good with this collection of heart-warming and funny films at SBS On Demand
The film equivalent of comfort food: you’ll feel warm and fuzzy and uplifted by this international selection of movies, now streaming at SBS On Demand.
‘Feels Good Man’: An online cautionary tale (review)
Pepe the frog’s transformation from easygoing cartoon to notorious symbol of hate is investigated by Arthur Jones’ sharp, absorbing doc. (Now streaming at SBS On Demand.)
Win two passes to see A Hero in cinemas
To celebrate the release of A Hero in cinemas 9 June, Hi Gloss Entertainment and SBS are giving you a chance to win two passes to see the film. - Competition is now closed
Stalk the lonely streets with SBS On Demand’s Neo-Noir Collection
Film noir had its heyday in the immediate aftermath of World War II, but since then filmmakers have taken the genre to strange new places, as this fantastic collection of sleek, stylish thrillers shows.
You're invited to the Sydney Film Festival Retrospective at SBS On Demand
As you await opening night of the 69th Sydney Film Festival, explore a specially curated collection of past festival favourites, hand-picked by Festival Director Nashen Moodley. All now streaming at SBS On Demand.
It’s all costumes and drama with the Prized Period Pieces movie collection
SBS On Demand takes us back in time with the Prized Period Pieces collection.
Tune in to the Music in the Movies collection at SBS On Demand
Together, music and movies strike the right chord in this selection of films at SBS On Demand.
'Petite Maman' director Céline Sciamma, on writing her fantasy fable about a mother-daughter bond
The French writer/director's story of a mother-daughter meeting across time will melt the hardest heart. She speaks to Fiona Williams about how the pandemic inspired her to make it, and how casting twin sisters created the spark on screen.