Sundance 2018: Möller's 'The Guilty' is a Gripping, Contained Thriller
by Alex Billington
January 25, 2018
What a film. There are always new films made every year set in one place, as the contained thriller concept is always appealing and offers a certain amount of storytelling possibility and creativity. The Guilty, a film from Denmark, made by director Gustav Möller, is the latest contained thriller offering playing at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival and it's incredible. Set entirely inside of an emergency phone line call center, the film is about a police officer assigned to the phones one night, and one of the incidents he responds to when a frightened woman calls in. The lead performance by Jakob Cedergren is phenomenal, worthy of awards recognition, since it carries the entire film and is the only real acting (aside from the voices on the phone) that provides audiences the ability to feel the emotions and concerns and worries of this pained man.
The film opens without much of an introduction, simply taking us right inside of the small call center in Denmark. There are cuts and different shots, so it's not all one take, and it's not all focused entirely on faces. Jakob Cedergren plays a police officer named Asger Holm who, due to an incident we don't know anything about, has been demoted to working the phone lines instead of working on the street. We listen in as he takes on the job of answering 9-1-1 calls (in Denmark the emergency phone number is 1-1-2). A few of them are interesting at first, and all of them that come in are convincing. A couple of them are even amusing, which is a weird thing to say about emergency calls, but this is what happens - sometimes people call in for jokes or unnecessary issues when they shouldn't be calling. But then a call comes in that changes everything.
As expected, there are thrilling twists and turns in this film that involving various calls and Asger himself. But the best part about it is that you won't be able to figure out what's coming or what's happening until the moment is revealed. And these reveals are so thrilling, so gut-wrenching, and emotionally draining, and eye-opening. Cedergren plays this character perfectly, with tiny touches of emotion as he deals with the various calls and situations. And similarly, as a viewer, you will go through all of the various emotions as well. By the end, you may even feel a sense of relief (or exhaustion) because you'll have been experiencing so many different genuine feelings throughout. This is what makes the film so incredible, it's an exhilarating thriller.
There is a nice score by Carl Coleman & Caspar Hesselager worked into the film, but never bothersome. The cinematography and various camera angles from DP Jasper Spanning are effective and engaging, especially because it's all set inside of one place and focused on one person, yet it never feels boring or stale. This film seriously impressed me, and it will make you think about your own choices, your own reactions and responses to various situations. It's more than just simple storytelling, because it forces us to reflect on our own prejudices and biases, and makes us examine ourselves for the sake of helping others. Maybe our first instinct isn't right? Maybe we need to learn to think more critically, be more patient? It's invigorating that a film set inside of one room can evoke such strong emotions. This is the kind of cinema I love finding.
Alex's Sundance 2018 Rating: 9 out of 10
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