Film Review: "The Guilty" is a Guilt-Free Pleasure
A good thriller arrests its audience in their seats, raising their heartbeat and the hairs on their neck. The Guilty’s truly remarkable feat is that it does precisely this, to both its audience and its protagonist.
The Guilty follows recently demoted police officer Asger (Jakob Cedergren), who has been assigned to desk duty. Asger spends his mundane hours taking reports of muggings, injuries and crank calls, until a call from a kidnapped woman, Isbell (Jessica Dinnage), has Asger racing against the clock to find the kidnapper.
The Guilty is first and foremost a fantastically competent film. Even more impressively, it is director/screenwriter Gustav Möller’s cinematic debut. Not many films could reduce themselves to a singular space and character and still be both visually stunning and breathtakingly engaging.
The Guilty excels in its subtlety. Firstly, the screenwriting is full of clues as to who our characters are; furthermore, the dialogue never comes off as simple exposition, instead the characters converse in clever, concise and informative ways. Conversation flows naturally and characters voice their ideas and behave realistically and effectively. This is not a thriller where you will berate the characters for their decisions.
The crime itself and the series of events that Asger faces unravel in perfect order and pacing. Not a moment is wasted despite the elongated shots and silences. The story echoes the popular yet never predictable Nordic thrillers: not all is as it seems and every moment the story moves forward is unique, arresting and deliberate.
The fantastic screenwriting is set into a high-octane gear thanks to Jakob Cedergren’s white-knuckled performance as Asger and Jessica Dinnage’s haunting performance as the captured Isbel. Dinnage’s performance is solely vocal, with her soft tones and crisp dialect she evokes an ominous sense of fear and mystery that slowly and knowingly evolves into a spine-chilling performance. Cedergren performs Asger with swift and effective mannerism. Asger’s purposeful language towards others creates a realistic sense of self, which erupts into volatile and dangerous territory when Asger disregards the pecking order in favor of his own methods.
Both the performances are enhanced by fantastic sound design. Every noise is intentional and balanced perfectly. Dialogue creeps appropriately between crackly static to goose-bump inducing crispness, as if the characters where whispering into your ears in the tensest of moments.
Despite the film being resided to a singular police station, the cinematography never feels boring or repetitive. Instead cinematographer Jasper Spanning focuses on what is important, whether that be a map, the foreground or letting Cedergren’s fantastic expressions take the helm. The film knows exactly what to show and why. This is most evident near the final act when the film knuckles down and leaves nothing but Asger’s face and the computer light visible in a darkened room.
Ultimately, The Guilty is an effective bare-bone thriller, brought far and wide above its perceived simplicity by its fantastic performances and screenplay. The crime is darkly grim, the characters fleshed, and the story tumultuous and gripping. While there is less to see in comparison to other thrillers, there is more to take away from The Guilty.
The Guilty is far from a guilty pleasure.