BFI London Film Festival: The Guilty

The Guilty
The Guilty
Directed by Gustav Möller
Starring Jakob Cedergren, Jessica Dinnage and Johan Olsen
Screening at LFF October 11th, 12th and 19th 2018

by Richard Hamer

Police despatch officer Asgar Holm (Jakob Cedergren) is manning the phones on his regular shift when he receives an unusual call: A young woman, obviously in distress, but strangely cryptic about why. Realising she’s in the process of being kidnapped, and sat next to her captor, Asgar tries to help before the call is suddenly terminated. Set entirely within the confines of a single, small office, The Guilty charts Asgar’s obsessive quest to save her, aided by only a phone and a computer.

It’s frankly terrifying that The Guilty is a debut feature, so bold and confident is director Gustav Möller‘s grasp of form and structure. Cinematography is bold, claustrophobic, combining with Cedergren’s aggressive performance to create a movie of harsh close-ups and unbearable tension. Minutes at a time are spent just watching sweat covered brows burn under harsh, interrogative light, while the audio from Asgar’s headset is blown out until the drone of cars at night, the crunch of feet on gravel, and the pleas of suffering victims fill the world. As a thriller, The Guilty is beyond compare, tense from its opening minute to its last.

But it’s the ideas behind it that really push it into the realms of the remarkable. But, it is also here where we need to be careful, because The Guilty is an experience best enjoyed knowing as little as possible. At its heart is Asgar Holm, an immediately arrogant and dislikeable lead; a former beat cop, and evidently not a very nice one. As The Guilty peels back the layers of his story, so wider themes of justice, redemption and morality come into play. This is unsettling work, its multiple plot twists thrilling not just because of how unexpected they are, but because of how uncomfortable they make you feel. It is truly remarkable what this movie manages to do inside of a single room.

It’s already a Sundance award winner, and Denmark’s entry for next year’s Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, and it’s not difficult to see why. A movie of rare precision, every second of The Guilty’s tight eighty-five minutes challenges your assumptions, raises the stakes, and leaves you struggling for breath. A real hidden gem of the festival, The Guilty is a thriller that demands to be seen.


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