By Steven Sheehan.
From The Killing to Borgen, Nordic Noir quickly became a big hit in the UK. We Brits have long been admirers of Scandinavian culture so it made sense we would enjoy some of their TV shows.
Danish cinema is also highly regarded by film fans, with director Carl Theodor Dreyer seen as one of the film’s early innovators.
A new Danish film hoping to make waves this week is The Guilty, a taut thriller set in the confines of a police call centre.
When done well, single location movies like Buried, Rear Window and Panic Room are often an intense experience. The Guilty manages to do just that, all without showing anything more than someone talking on a telephone.
Jakob Cedergren plays Asger Holm, an officer who has been suspended from his usual police duties to work in the emergency call room. He’s snappy and judgemental and worried about a pending court case. We don’t find out why until much later. But it’s a noose that tightens around his neck throughout the 85 minutes.
He takes a call from a woman in trouble. She can’t describe her situation clearly but Asger manages to get enough information to alert nearby officers. It sounds like she’s been kidnapped but her exact location and the car she’s in remain elusive.
Asger has a passion for his job but finds it hard to play by the rules. This could be why he has been suspended. He becomes involved in a series of calls to various parties trying to find the woman. A killer twist turns the knife, later on, leaving us as sweaty-palmed as a dumbstruck Asger.
Other characters mingle in the background but Cedergren is essentially the only actor in the film. Director Gustav Möller keeps his face front and centre and Cedergren’s expressions superbly relay the rapid change in his emotions.
There is fear in his eyes and sweat forming on his upper lip. At other times he is trapped in despair at how hopeless he feels. Möller shoots him in the room from every possible angle. It makes us feel all the more claustrophobic as the minutes’ tick by.
Even though we can’t see what is happening on the other end of the phone, visualising it adds to the mystery and tension. The room seems to be closing in on Asger and we are trapped right there beside him.
The Guilty puts us in the situation of having to make the same fast decisions as Asger. The only difference is we have the benefit of changing our minds if we see it was a bad call.
We all make assumptions about other people based on minimal information. What the film examines is how filling in these gaps and jumping to conclusions is rarely a good thing. Even if there are good intentions behind it.
This is the type of thriller that will appeal to everyone, even those who find subtitles difficult to follow. The Guilty will only receive a small cinema release but will get digital and home entertainment releases early next year. It asks tough questions of its character and of us, leaving your fingernails in shreds in the process.
The Guilty is released in select UK cinemas on Friday 26th October.