Fantastic Fest 2018: The Guilty

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Asger, a beat cop stuck answering calls in an emergency dispatch center, gets a call that captures his focus. We remain glued to this man as he struggles to find out what’s happening to the woman on the line. Unable to be at the scene, Asgar works remotely to solve a crime and stop a tragedy. Like Asgar, we never leave the call center as the story spins out of control.

With The Guilty, director Gustav Möller has crafted perhaps the most surehanded piece of filmmaking I’ve seen in years. Every frame is captivating, with Möller controlling the color grade of the lighting, manipulating the sound foley, and setting the office so that the audience is never left bored despite the limited location. Jakob Cedergren walks a perfect line between emotion and control in his performance of Asger, giving us the information we need to learn about his character through his reactions as well as his words. Over the course of the movie, we are treated to a subtle and chilling exploration of crime and humanity, but also a delicate understanding of this individual, and the moral center he’s seeking.

The sound design is astonishing. Even now, if you played me some of the room tone we hear during Asger’s calls, I could tell you exactly which call, and which character’s car. It is engrossing as we watch this man’s reactions as our own, and imagine the same things he’s trying to decipher. What could have been a limiting story device becomes a source of endless tension as we struggle to understand what we hear.

Small moves from Möller, such as dropping the red color from the scene just as Asger learns a key fact, push the film from “ingenious character study” to masterwork. The location trap never feels like a gimmick. I never felt we were being kept in one place through bad character decisions, and the entire plot felt natural and suited to the runtime of the story. There is a sense that nothing in this film was left to chance, and that every possible base was covered by the filmmakers. The result is a movie that felt perfect, like a gem, each facet amplifying the whole.

The Guilty is the official Danish entry into the Academy Awards, and was the best overall film I saw at Fantastic Fest.