Den skyldige | The Guilty (2018)
Making the most of its minimal setting & limited resources to deliver a tense, taut & thrilling delight that definitely ranks amongst last year’s finest films, The Guilty (also known as Den skyldige) is an expertly crafted, tightly plotted & neatly executed Danish thriller that slowly elevates the tension to never-wracking levels and doesn’t let go until the very end.
The story follows a police officer who’s demoted to emergency dispatch duty following a pending investigation into his past actions, and covers his desperate efforts to help a kidnapped woman after receiving a panicked call from her. But the more he lends his services from his desk, the graver the situation becomes, and the closer he gets to confronting his own demons.
Co-written & directed by Gustav Möller in his feature film debut, it’s a premise that’s been tackled before yet the grounded approach and absence of gimmicky moments imbues this story with the required realism & authenticity. Shot in a confined space with nothing but emergency dispatch tools at its disposal, Möller lets the viewers imagine the scenario on the caller’s side and it only gets more stressful as plot progresses.
For a debut feature, The Guilty is a polished piece of work. Möller’s direction is top-notch as he silently brings the viewers into his carefully structured narrative, slowly begins to ratchet up the tension with the assistance of aural elements that instantly places us in the protagonist’s chair, and then unveils each aptly placed plot twist after another that allows our imagination to go haywire with the disturbing images those verbal details paint.
It also helps that the protagonist is no mere caricature and exhibits a certain depth & fleshed arc that unravels as we journey inward into his persona. We relate to his helpless situation once that call kicks his detective mode into action, not to mention that his continuous attempts to save her eventually brings him head on with the incident that led to his demotion, which in turn puts everything into perspective, and provides a satisfying closure to people on either sides of the call.
Police officer Asger Holm is the only character we are introduced to on the screen, and Jakob Cedergren does a brilliant job at articulating his growing anxiousness in a convincing fashion. It’s a calculated performance and Cedergren never oversteps at any given moment. Jessica Dinnage also deserves a mention for her impressive voice input that conveys a genuine sense of stress on her side. And keeping the uneasy vibe alive is the first-rate sound design that’s no less than a highlight.
On an overall scale, The Guilty is an increasingly unnerving, consistently engaging & downright sophisticated crime thriller that begins Gustav Möller’s filmmaking journey on an incredibly positive & promising note. Certainly one of the best films of 2018 that deserves a broader viewership, this Danish thriller may look simple in structure but beneath its surface lies a finely layered tale of emotional baggage & moral conflict that imparts an additional weight to its drama while further amplifying its nail-biting quality & chilling aura. Highly recommended.