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Despite focusing entirely on a single individual speaking into a headset in a Danish emergency call center, The Guilty nevertheless emerges as a twisty crime thriller that’s every bit as pulse-pounding and involving as its action-oriented, adrenaline-soaked counterparts.
In his feature debut, filmmaker Gustav Moller masterfully ratchets up tension without the benefit of the usual visual aids, forcing viewers to dust off their imaginations and put them to work with chillingly effective results.
Handed its world premiere at Sundance, the film deserves a healthy run on the festival circuit followed by decent theatrical exposure, while, down the road, it could easily lend itself to an English-language remake that would be a terrific fit for a Ryan Gosling or Michael Fassbender.
Relegated to dispatcher duty after a murky incident that has cost him his badge, former officer Asger Holm (a commanding Jakob Cedergren) routinely answers distress calls, including one from a man claiming he was mugged by a woman who jumped into his car, as the screen in front of Holm reveals his location to be in the heart of the red light district.
But he immediately goes off auto-pilot when he fields a call from a woman (Jessica Dinnage, heard but never seen) in a moving vehicle speaking in muted, frightened tones. While Holm is able to discern she’s the victim of a domestic abduction and has been forced to leave two young children back at home, he must race against a ticking clock to track her down as an already tense situation proves to grow more horrific by the minute.
Granted, we never get to see any of this mounting unpleasantness — the cleverness of the film’s construction restricts the evidence to voices and sounds, like those of hushed cries or windshield wipers, while the visual element is conveyed solely by Holm’s eyes, with cinematographer Jasper Spanning’s penetrating camera seldom leaving his face.
While the term “Hitchcockian” gets thrown around a lot, it rightfully applies to Moller’s painstakingly precise direction as well as to the sinewy script he co-wrote with Emil Nygaard Albertsen. And although the ultimate big reveal may not quite emerge as the unexpected shocker it’s intended to be, the methods utilized to arrive at that point actually prove as potent as the payoff.
More than capably sharing that credit is Cedergren, who, in tight close-ups, is called upon to register volumes while remaining tethered to his headset. A flawed character who has a weakness for acting on impulse and a history of overstepping boundaries, Holm’s need for personal redemption would appear to spur him on just as urgently as his fevered attempts to potentially save another person’s life.
In the case probed by The Guilty, innocence can be equally as tricky to prove.
Production companies: Nordisk Film Spring, New Danish Screen
Cast: Jakob Cedergren, Jessica Dinnage, Johan Olsen, Omar Shargaw
Director: Gustav Moller
Screenwriters: Gustav Moller & Emil Nygaard Albertsen
Producer: Lina Flint
Executive producer: Henrik Zein
Director of photography: Jasper J. Spanning
Production designer: Gustav Pontoppidan
Editor: Carla Luff
Composers: Carl Coleman & Caspar Hesselager
Casting director: Anja Philip
Venue: Sundance Film Festival (World Dramatic Competition)
Sales: Nordisk Film Spring
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