REVIEW: Den Skyldige (2018)

Danish Theatrical Release Poster – Nordisk Film

The following is a review of Den Skyldige (also known as ‘The Guilty’) — Directed by Gustav Möller.

The Danish single-location thriller, Den Skyldige, is the debut film of Swedish-born director Gustav Möller, a former student at the National Film School of Denmark, and it revolves around a frustrated police officer at an emergency call center. 

The entire film is told from the perspective of its main character — Asger (played by Jakob Cedergren), the aforementioned police officer — what that means in the context of this film is that all you see is the Danish police officer in two rooms for the entire film. Asger, although initially unwilling to immediately assist those that call, eventually is shook out of his standoffish composure, when a woman named Iben (voiced by Jessica Dinnage) dials ‘112’ (the Danish emergency telephone number).

While pretending like she is talking to her young daughter on the phone, Iben explains that she has been kidnapped by her ex-husband, who, Asger deduces, is sitting right next to her in a car. Asger, an unethical police officer seeking redemption for something he did on the job, catches himself and sees a chance to prove to himself that he can be the heroic guardian that he later describes himself as to Iben’s daughter.

Asger continues to ignore protocol and heroically throw himself into the case as if he were a paperback novel detective bound to a computer and a telephone. To say much more about the story would be to strip the taut, tense, and twisty Danish thriller of some of its incredible ability to pull you in until you find yourself at the edge of your seat.

It can be pitched as simply as this — Den Skyldige is a Danish blend of Steven Knight’s Locke and Brad Anderson’s The Call. It is the kind of film that will have Hollywood producers with an eye on world cinema salivating at the prospect of remaking it with an actor like Michael Fassbender or Ben Foster, but here, in the original Scandinavian picture, Jakob Cedergren manages to carry the film on his shoulders without ever showing any signs of being unfit for the challenge.

You don’t spend a moment without him, and the film always rests on his face. It is a challenge for a tightly constructed thriller to be fixed entirely upon one actor, but Cedergren is up for the challenge. He is aided by some stellar voicework from actors, like Jessica Dinnage, none of whom ever struggle with dialogue or seem unnatural. Furthermore, the film’s impeccable sound editing help to make this superbly orchestrated minimalist Danish thriller into an impressive directorial debut from Gustav Möller.

For my liking, the film got a little bit too cutesy towards the end, but that is just a minor problem that I have with it. Although the film does rely on audiences’ willingness to play along by using their imagination to conjure up what exactly is happening on the other end of the line, the film never lets go of its tension-building design.

I wasn’t just on the edge of my seat, it almost felt like my shirt was tightening around my neck, and, in some moments, I nervously found my right hand covering my mouth — that is the effect of Möller’s perfectly controlled suspense. Den Skyldige won the World Cinema Dramatic Audience Award at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, and I can definitely see why audiences fell in love with Möller’s debut — it is an impeccably-designed new thriller with a spectacular performance from its leading man.

8.5 out of 10

– Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen

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