The Guilty (Den Skyldige) (2018)

Country: Denmark

Language: Danish

There is something about film festivals that resonates with the eclectic in me. Whilst a plethora of Asian (and other foreign) films have graced cinema screens Down Under in recent years, my quest for everything Nordic has so far left me with slim pickings. That is, until the 2018 Sydney Film Festival closed on a thrilling high.

In front of a sell-out crowd at Sydney’s State Theatre, Gustav Möller’s The Guilty had us under its spell for a riveting 85 minutes. As a directorial debut at the Sundance Festival earlier this year, the minimalist, low-budget set-up was perhaps to be expected. That is where expectations ended in signature Nordic fashion. The breakout Danish thriller – anchored by its leading man Asger Holm (Jakob Cedergren) – clung to my senses like an uncomfortably damp glove on a frigid winter night.

The stolid, disinterested Asger may not be what we have in mind when we call through the Copenhagen Emergency Services with our life on the line. For reasons slowly unravelled in the film, the emergency call operator deems it beneath him to handle jackass behaviour chained to his desk and phone. From sorry tales of self-induced intoxication, to knee scrapes and jaunts in the red light district gone wrong, Asger barely suppresses his disgust and dismay at the range of social stupidity. His unsympathetic remarks, such as classic one-liners “it’s your own fault, isn’t it?” and “let him sit and stew in it”, provide comic relief in an otherwise tightly wound narrative.

The light-heartedness does not last long, however, as Asger takes a cryptic call from a traumatised female known only as Iben (Jessica Dinnage). Disguising the emergency call as a conversation with her “sweetie”, the quavering Iben appeals to the operator to end her highway abduction by her violent ex-husband Michael (Johan Olsen). Instantly alert, Asger displays his investigative prowess and unleashes one of the most intense and gruesome manhunts to have ever played out within the confines of our aural senses.

For a film that trains its spotlight on the actions (or reactions) of one man, Cedergren rises to the implausible challenge and renders a faultless performance throughout. Having never watched his performances, Cedergren’s vocal and facial tenacity, upon which the success of this film is hinged, proved as masterful as it is infectious. Of course, Cedergren harbours his own secrets and The Guilty is but a perfectly loaded pretext, as we have come to expect of Nordic noir at its finest.

Ultimately, The Guilty is also a captivating character study where, perhaps, the deepest character analysis lies with ourselves and our imaginations. For a film that never leaves the call centre, it’s taken us full circle on grisly crime scenes and excruciating circumstances of lives hanging in the balance. We are duly confronted by our impetuosity as audience, where collectively we embark on a redemptive journey to face the fallible in all of us.

Rewatchability Index: 4.5/5.

10 Comments Add yours

  1. Finally I got to see this one. It was aired on Italian TV but I didn’t watch it and later amore recommended it to me. Fascinating stuff and a good review.

    1. Jolene says:

      Hi! Sorry I missed your message completely. How did you like the movie? It was great thriller, wasn’t it? Amazing they did all of this without ever showing the actual crime scene. I was hooked by his voice! 😂

      1. Yes, it’s quite exceptional! I really like the fact that I didn’t see it coming, the ending. And how it changes everything. Really well done, everybody.

      2. Jolene says:

        I agree, wish there were more of these films!

  2. Forestwood says:

    Just checked and it is coming to cinemas late February. I will be ready!! Lol!!

  3. Forestwood says:

    Hi Jolene! I came across this again and am not sure what happened to my original comment, it must have vanished into cyberspace! The films this year were not as noteworthy as they have been, in previous years. However, Under the Tree, A Horrible Woman and U -22 were worth seeing. For an intense experience, about a real life event, U – 22 about the Utoya massacre in Norway is the stand out film of the year’s offerings. I haven’t found The Guilty to be showing anywhere near me, as yet. I will have to hunt it down!

    1. Jolene says:

      Thanks for sharing Amanda! I must catch U-22, it should be a haunting film… I was in Oslo on its 5th anniversary and the guide’s version of events was enough to give me the goosebumps…
      I’m sure you’ll enjoy The Guilty! 😊

  4. Forestwood says:

    An excellent review! I would definitely watch this after reading your post. Pity this wasn’t featured in the Scandinvian film festival that is currently showing in my town. Mind you, there have been other good movies….

    1. Jolene says:

      Thanks so much! Scandi film festival would definitely be my cup of tea! Any standouts? As for The Guilty, hope you do get to catch it, it’s a little gem of a film. 😉

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