By now it’s pretty obvious that a hefty budget or a grand scale doesn’t automatically equal a good thriller. In fact several movies have shown the opposite to be true. The Danish film “The Guilty” is the latest glowing example of how great writing and a good actor’s steely intensity is more than enough for a genuinely gripping thriller.
Director and co-writer Gustav Möller’s feature debut doesn’t suffer a bit from the film’s obvious small budget. Instead he utilizes it by restricting his entire story within one space while at the same time allowing our imaginations to do the bulk of the heavy lifting. And the entire framework of his story is built around a taut, economical narrative that is confined by demand.
Jakob Cedergren is the movie’s engine. He drives the entire film appearing in every frame of every scene. He plays Asger, an operator for Copenhagen emergency services (akin to our 911 here in the States) who receives a mysterious call from a distraught woman named Iben (voiced by Jessica Dinnage). She relays to Asger that she has been kidnapped but is disconnected before giving much more information.
“The Guilty” spends its brisk 85 minutes following Asger as he parses the various voices he encounters through his headset. We only hear these people through phone conversations, but when combined with Cedergren’s spot-on intensity, we are given more than enough to compose our own mental images and develop our own conclusions.
The genius of “The Guilty” is that it never feels gimmicky or contrived. Möller’s screenplay (co-written by Emil Nygaard Albertsen) creates tension and then ratchets it up through smart and crafty story twists that come about in the most organic of ways. It also maintains an undeniable Hitchcockian flavor which Möller leans into.
“The Guilty” is the Danish entry for the Best Foreign Language category at the upcoming Oscars and hopefully it will find a spot at the table. It’s a riveting thriller deserving of the attention and of broader exposure. And as I mentioned, it is another example of how a minimalist approach from an inspired filmmaker can be incredibly effective when the writing is sharp and you have a lead performer as convincing as Cedergren. Give this film a look.
VERDICT – 4.5 STARS