The Guilty Jakob CedergrenYear: 2018
Director(s): Gustav Möller
Writer(s): Gustav Möller
Region of Origin: Denmark
Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1
Rating: R
Color, 85 mins

Synopsis: A police officer assigned alarm dispatch duty enters a race against time when he answers an emergency call from a kidnapped woman. (Source)

The best stories explore truth as subjective. In Gustav Möller’s The Guilty, one man’s truth is uprooted by a series of damning revelations. Taking place over a single night, Möller transforms a frantic emergency phone call into a complex exercise in morality and conviction. Forcing us to tackle truths from multiple angles, an evolving portrait of guilt and grace is formed, resulting in an inescapable thriller that truly sinks its teeth into us.

After an incident temporarily sidelines him, police officer Asger (Jakob Cedergren) is forced to work emergency dispatch. A former street cop, Asger doesn’t think much of his current position. Most of his phone calls are about petty crime, and a few even the product of dumb human error. Expecting one last night before being reinstated to the streets, Asger is jolted when a kidnapped woman named Iben (Jessica Dinnage) calls him speaking in code. Pretending to talk to her daughter, Iben pulls Asger into a race-against-time. Nothing is what it seems, and the safety of her family hangs in the balance. As Asger races to solve an infinitely twisty mystery, he’s forced to question his own definitions of justice, right and wrong.

Drawing from his own script, Möller’s film is ingenious, using a minimalist setup to wring maximum tension and terror. Confined to a single room with less than a handful of characters, Möller takes us into Asger’s troubled headspace, slowly revealing how good intentions can snowball into tragedy. Helping to maintain character-driven focus, Möller films with extreme close-ups and impressionistic editing, using creative lighting and compositions to isolate Asger as he and Iben grow desperate. Still, despite visual exclusivity towards Asger, the film never feels repetitious or static. Möller somehow defines what we can’t see, using smart sound design to deepen and push conflict. Ultimately, these traits immerse us into Asger and Iben’s tense call. More than most films, we absolutely feel the burden of being a helpless bystander, and when all is said and done, Möller has challenged us as much as his characters.

The Guilty review Jakob Cedergren stillIt goes without saying that the film’s centerpiece is Cedergren’s knockout performance. As the sole focus of this chamber piece, Cedergren is at front and center at all times, on the receiving end of unseen threats and danger. He also takes the film’s subversive ideas and gives them a humanity we can’t ignore. The stakes exist because of his evocative performance, employing understated body language and facial expressions to transcend Asger’s environmental limitations. This is a masterful performance on every level, embodying the film’s moral struggle with genuine empathy and shades of grey. Only heard from off screen, Jessica Dinnage and Johan Olsen make the most of their unseen presence, allowing their disembodied voices to be more than just a voice on the other end.

The Guilty is thrilling, infinitely layered, and hurtles relentlessly towards an emotional conclusion. Though it isn’t hard to guess where the film will go, Möller’s film is more than its conclusion. It’s a thought provoking thriller that goes beyond surface and sticks with us the more we think about it. All in all, this is a very confident and bold piece of work, deconstructing big ideas through a claustrophobic lens. Möller’s assured debut isn’t just about how the truth can set us free, it’s also about the responsibility and burden of holding that truth.