THE GUILTY (Den Skyldige, 2018, Denmark)


Dallas International Film Festival 2018

 Greetings again from the darkness. Some people prefer their movies to be light-hearted escapes from the real world – two hours of mindless entertainment that distract from real life responsibilities. Then there are the rest of us: the movie-goers who thrive on having our emotions and nerves mangled and twisted, leaving us drained and strained as we stumble from the theater after the closing credits. For those in the second group, meet Danish writer/director Gustav Moller.

It’s a remarkable first feature film, and Mr. Moller shares screenwriting credit with Emil Nygaard Albertsen, and it’s what we might call a one-room or confined-space thriller. Others in this claustrophobic category would include the classic 12 ANGRY MEN (1957) and more recent films like BURIED (2010), the underrated LOCKE (2013), and the Oscar nominated ROOM (2015). Most, if not all, of the action in these films takes place in a single setting, and the filmmakers creatively use that limited space in a way that elevates the story and tension.

Jakob Cedergren is stunning as Asger Holm, an officer frustratingly on “desk duty” at the emergency dispatch center. Asger has been so assigned due to an unspecified internal investigation, and he takes out some of his irritation on callers he quickly judges to be responsible for their own situation – drunken brawlers and those looking to exchange commerce for companionship (wink-wink). However, a breathy call from a woman who claims to be kidnapped immediately ignites Asger’s instincts and street smarts.

Iben (the voice of Jessica Dinnage) informs Asger, through a series of yes-no questions that her ex-husband has kidnapped her, stranding her two young children home alone. Asger cleverly uncovers that Iben is being transported via white van on a major highway. It’s at this point that he remains calm and reassuring to Iben, while expertly juggling other phone calls for assistance: dispatch, highway patrol, even his somewhat intoxicated and disinterested former partner. Rather than route this call per protocol, Asger takes control with technology, experience and instincts as his only tools … likely sensing both the need for urgency and his shot at redemption.

The film is mostly just a series of phone conversations, yet somehow my stomach was tied up in knots! The isolation and desperation is evident on both ends of the line between Asger and Iben, and some outstanding sound design with ambient noise provides our only other link outside the barren walls of the call center. Cinematographer Jasper Spanning makes creative use of cameras to enhance the claustrophobic setting and story – often using tight shots and close-ups of Asger’s remarkable face. Every viewer is likely to jump to conclusions without having full details, emphasizing human nature’s quick trigger for assumptions. Still, in only 85 minutes, we experience a tension-packed, nerve-wracking, yet artistic presentation … one that leaves us in awe of Jakob Cedergren’s performance and Gustav Moller’s future.

watch the trailer:

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