KVIFF 2018 Review: Danish Thriller ‘The Guilty’ a Gripping Ride

KVIFF 2018 Review: Danish Thriller ‘The Guilty’ a Gripping Ride

An emergency line operator desperately tries to locate and assist a kidnapped woman in the new Danish thriller The Guilty (Den skyldige), which marks the feature debut for director Gustav Möller, who co-wrote the film with Emil Nygaard Albertsen.

Taut and suspenseful for the duration of its 85-minute running time, The Guilty occasionally falls into conventional and convoluted thriller territory (especially during its climactic scenes) but has one big difference: it's told in real time and set entirely within the offices of the emergency line operator, making this an unusually intense and claustrophobic ride.

Jakob Cedergren (Submarino, Terribly Happy) stars as Asger Holm, a Copenhagen detective who has been relegated to working the emergency line after a conduct-related issue. His daily routine consists of fielding calls from druggies who have taken too much or drunks getting into bar fights, and dispatching police officers to the scene when necessary.

But when Asger gets a call from a woman who pretends to be talking to her daughter, he immediately picks up that something isn’t right. Through a series of yes-or-no questions, he’s able to deduce that Iben (Jessica Dinnage) has been abducted and is currently on the road alongside her captor.

It’s only a few minutes before Iben is cut off, and Asger is left with police officers searching for a black van around the area where the mobile phone call was triangulated. But his instincts as a detective kick in: despite the dispatcher telling him to back off and let them do their work, he begins his own investigation that starts with a call to Iben’s four-year-old daughter. 

On screen (and on the phone) for almost every shot in the entire film a la Tom Hardy in Locke, Cedergren give the film a brooding, intense lead performance and effortlessly carries The Guilty on his shoulders. Throughout the film, we’re with Asger not only on the active abduction case, but also on a backstory that involves his own personal demons. 

I would have been more than happy with a straightforward resolution to the premise so nicely established during the first half of the film, but director Möller takes us on the usual Hollywood-esque thriller route and throws a few curveballs towards the finale, including a twist that raises more questions than it answers. 

Were The Guilty filmed in a more conventional manner, the convoluted denouement might have compromised an otherwise top-notch thriller. But given the unique perspective of taking place entirely over the phone at emergency operator Asger’s desk, it remains a unique and gripping ride right up to its conclusion.

The movie also does a great job of depicting the 112 (911 in the US) emergency operator procedure, dispelling myths (unlike some callers think, dispatchers aren’t able to pinpoint the exact location of a mobile phone call) and showcasing the kind of technology they use. In The Guilty, that includes a computer system that instantly brings up all relevant information (name, address, license) that can be used to assist the caller. 

Likely to end up as one of 2018's top thrillers, The Guilty has also been a big hit with audiences at this year’s Karlovy Vary International film Festival; halfway through the fest, it’s leading the vote for the Special Audience Award given annually to the highest-rated film by KVIFF attendees.

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