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Don’t Forget to Breathe: The Guilty (Den skyldige) Review

One has to admire the hardships that emergency call operators experience. It’s a job that many wouldn’t be suited for. When we first meet our main protagonist (who we spend the entire runtime with), it’s not clear whether or not he is cut out for this role.

Asger Holm (Jakob Cedergren) is man under a great deal of stress. We can see that the stress and strain of his job has finally caught up with him, there are massive bags under eyes and he has pasty white skin.

He seems to blend into the background. He finds answering calls from drunk people to be a nuisance. He’s blunt, and direct, almost harsh in his approach to those seeking help. He is not a patient man. But surely that doesn’t matter as the real question is whether he a good man, and whether he can make the right decision.

The premise of Den Skyldige is very simple, and it’s strength lies in its simplicity. One rainy night, Alarm Dispatcher Asger Holm answers an emergency call from a kidnapped woman (Jessica Dinnage). At first Holm believes he’s dealing with a prank call, but he soon realises the gravity of the situation.

“Holm is an interesting and complex character, and Cedergren delivers a stellar performance.”

When the call is suddenly disconnected, the search for the woman and her kidnapper begins. Holm must find a way to save this woman’s life using only his phone, as time slowly runs out. As time ticks by, Holm finds himself not only on the phone to the kidnapped woman, but her daughter who has been left alone at home with her infant brother, and eventually Holm finds himself talking to the kidnapper. As the truth slowly comes out, difficult and uncomfortable decisions must be made, but will it be the right decision?

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Holm is an interesting and complex character, and Cedergren delivers a stellar performance (almost solo performance as we spend the entire film’s runtime with him). There’s lots to unpick with Cedergren’s character. His past is slowly revealed to us, but we know very little regarding him from the get go.

This is a film that focuses on the little details, with the viewer being expected to pay attention to off-hand passive aggressive remarks from other characters that interact with Holm. It’s hard to like Holm, he doesn’t quite make it easy for us to side with him – especially when he tells off a person who has taken drugs and is having a bad trip. However, there’s more to the surface to this character, and we begin to wonder who is ‘The Guilty’ person that this film is named after?

“Den skyldige breathes life back into the stale genre that has become the psychological thriller.”

We rarely see anyone else sharing Cedergren’s space towards the end of the film. When he shuts himself in the other room, away from prying eyes. The intense, tight framed close-ups from Cinematographer Jasper J. Spanning, help to place the viewer in Holm’s shoes. The camera work, also creates this strong sense of claustrophobia.

And, as the film reaches its climax, you could almost swear that the walls are slowly closing in on Cedergren. The confined space, makes us feel too close to the action. We are in this room with Holm, waiting for the next call to come in, and hoping we can somehow make a real difference in this painful situation.

The film’s sound design is also worth mentioning. As this is a film that relies on what we can hear rather than what we can see, and our ears begin to strain to hear every last detail in an attempt to follow the story unfolding.

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It’s almost a release when the film ends. Finally we can catch our breath and relax. This is a film which defines the word ‘intense’. Like Searching from last year, Den skyldige breathes life back into the stale genre that has become the psychological thriller.

“An intense, thrill ride, which will leave you on the edge of your seat.”

In a year where world cinema has out shined many efforts from Hollywood, Den skyldige has already been eyed out for a glossy remake featuring Jake Gyllenhaal. Proving once again that Hollywood prefers to remake films rather than seek out original content.

Gustav Möller’s direction is perfect, and it is clear that he is a master of suspense (Möller co-wrote the screenplay with Emil Nygaard Albertsen). Luckily, it would seem that Möller has very little interest in being a part of the remake, as he discussed in an interview “Making a film has to be like an unanswered question. You have this challenge ahead of you that you are trying to resolve. When the film is done, the question is dead and the challenge is over.”

We can expect to see more from Möller, who has already proven himself to be an expert filmmaker – not afraid to focus on what makes a film great. A strong premise, and drawing out the best possible performance from his main actor.

Overall, Den skyldige is an intense, thrill ride, which will leave you on the edge of your seat, unable to look away. Playing out in ‘real’ time, the film feels refreshing and unpredictable. We almost forget that this is a film, and not real life unfolding before our very eyes. Please remember, that this is just a film and don’t forget to breathe.

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