[Sundance 2018] The Guilty Review: A Game of Telephone That Doesn't Quite Connect

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The Guilty might not be the most intense thriller but the frustration by the main character is easy to understand.

Director: Gustav Möller

Summary: When police officer Asger Holm (Jakob Cedergren) is demoted to desk work, he expects a sleepy beat as an emergency dispatcher. That all changes when he answers a panicked phone call from a kidnapped woman who then disconnects abruptly. Asger, confined to the police station, is forced to use others as his eyes and ears as the severity of the crime slowly becomes more clear. The search to find the missing woman and her assailant will take every bit of his intuition and skill, as a ticking clock and his own personal demons conspire against him.

Jakob Cedergren appears in The Guilty by Gustav Möller, an official selection of the World Cinema Dramatic Competition at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Nikolaj Möller.
Photo by Nikolaj Möller.

There are few things worse in the world than trying to get anything done over the phone. It's a combination of feeling helpless from miles away but still being able to have a conversation with someone. There have been several movies over the years that have explored the idea of someone trying to solve a problem over the phone, and The Guilty is a new Danish entry into this genre. Asger is answering the emergency line when he gets a call from what sounds like a kidnapped woman. He can't leave the emergency line, though, and has to spend the entire movie calling people and listening to try and figure out what's going on. As time goes on you can see how frustrated and helpless he feels being forced on the sidelines.

The story that's being told in The Guilty isn't the most original in the world, but the execution still makes the movie interesting. The problem is the lack of a truly compelling story and while lead actor Jakob Cedergren turns in an admirable effort here, this material might be a little out of his depth. Being asked to carry an entire movie is a lot for any actor, and there just isn't quite enough to hang into when it comes to this one. The thing that does come through is the frustration of being on the other side of a phone line. Buried from a couple years ago tackled a similar idea but that was a little more of a B-movie, while this one feels like it's trying to make a larger point. That point, however, is muddled.

A thriller isn't ever supposed to be boring, and the lack of being able to see anything happening in front of us makes things less interesting in this movie than in Buried. In Buried we got to see escape attempts and other such things, but this movie takes place in a police station in one of the safest cities in the world. Not much can happen just because of the setting alone. That leaves all emotion to be telegraphed from the phone calls, which more or less work, and Cedergran's face. It's not enough which is a shame because the idea is interesting enough the execution is just not good enough.

The Guilty works better as an experiment than a full movie. There just isn't enough going on that's interesting to keep the audience engaged. When you have one actor in one location everything else needs to be turned up to eleven and this one is right in the middle.

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About Kaitlyn Booth

Kaitlyn is the Editor-in-Chief at Bleeding Cool. She loves movies, television, and comics. She's a member of the UFCA and the GALECA. Feminist. Writer. Nerd. Follow her on twitter @katiesmovies and @safaiagem on instagram. She's also a co-host at The Nerd Dome Podcast. Listen to it at http://www.nerddomepodcast.com

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