An edge of your seat crime thriller from start to finish, The Guilty is low-budget cinema done right.
Be prepared to call 000 once the credits role because you’re about to be blindsided by a modern Danish masterpiece.
At a mention of European cinema sometimes viewers can recoil in fear. Some people picture sitting through a slowly paced, Lynchian, arthouse film which depicts a small Italian woman carrying buckets of water up a steep hill in black and white or something. If that doesn’t sound up your alley, do not fear, because Gustav Möller’s The Guilty is high-concept entertainment.
A former police officer, now emergency call dispatcher receives a mysterious call from a woman claiming to have been kidnapped. Rather than handle the call as usual and move onto the next emergency caller we follow the dispatcher in real time as he becomes more and more involved in the deepening mystery of the kidnapped woman. Twists and turns galore, this film plays out like a true crime podcast on screen and is being remade by the almighty Hollywood forces with Jake Gyllenhaal as lead.
Jakob Cedergren’s performance as protagonist Asger Holm is the central focus for the full hour and a half runtime of The Guilty. While he carries the movie it’s not to say that his peers provide weak performances. There is not one shot in the film which features the actions of any character apart from his own. The story unfolds through his interactions with the crimes orbiting around him. The minimalistic nature of set design and mis-én-scene lends itself to the high-concept storyline. Entirely set in a sanitised white-lit office, with only a few fellow emergency dispatchers pottering around, suspense is heightened as the potentially tumultuous volume of Asger’s reactions are forced to remain subdued. Cedergren’s performance is precise and nuanced, you can see his character silently bursting at the seams as he reacts to the twists and turns of the crime- yet only letting emotion overcome him when he has reached his boiling point.
The sound mixing in this film is dynamic. The absence of any score heightens tension in moments where phone’s begin ringing and vibrating as if they were their own digital symphony being conducted by Asger as he manages calls from multiple characters involved in the crime. Maybe it’s just because they sound different in Denmark, but I never knew a the slow drawn out ring of a dial tone could be so anxiety inducing until it was the sound overlaying a sweaty-lipped, embattled looking emergency dispatcher.
One of my only criticisms of this film may even just come down to my own fault in being a massive consumer of both the form and genre: real-time and thriller cinema. I was able to predict a few key moments in this film, moments that would have been extremely heightened had I not already put the pieces together in my head. That being said, if you’re going into this film for pure entertainment you will still come out extremely satisfied.
Reduced down to the most basic explanation, this film does so much with so little and cannot be missed if you enjoy mystery thrillers.