Movie review: “The Guilty” is very stressful indeed

TMN movie critic Gordon McPherson gives “The Guilty” five out of five headsets.

With “Avengers: Endgame” coming out April 26, it seems appropriate that I review a film stripped of all effects-driven bombast — one that takes place mainly in a single room, perhaps. I’ll be deaf after “Endgame,” after all, so I might as well lap up all I can beforehand.

“The Guilty,” a 2018 Danish thriller that transpires entirely on a single floor of a police station, is a prime example of minimalist adrenaline. The film follows Asger Holm, played by Jakob Cedergren, a police officer with an ambiguous past relegated to answering emergency dispatch calls. Holm, frustrated by his recent demotion and quietly suffering from repressed anger, unenthusiastically performs his duties until he receives a call from a woman named Iben, voiced by Jessica Dinnage. Iben has been kidnapped, and Holm is determined to save her. Thus begins a twist-filled, soul-shaking investigation of modern communication, questionable morality, deadly misunderstandings and honesty in dire situations. It should be noted viewers never leave the police station — staying with Holm on the phone, often in intense close-ups, as he becomes increasingly involved.

Like the 2013 film “Locke,” starring Tom Hardy and taking place in a single vehicle, “The Guilty” adopts a claustrophobic, high-stress environment to amplify the tense proceedings.

Not a single shot is wasted, and Cedergren gives an entirely convincing, wholly compelling performance that makes Holm a fascinating, yet undeniably flawed, character.

Gustav Moller, the film’s director, utilizes in-the-moment, sometimes blistering dialogue to reveal information about Holm’s past without resorting to blatant exposition dumps — ahem, “Alita: Battle Angel.” As a result, Holm remains a distant yet compulsively watchable character whom viewers are never able to fully understand.

Holm’s ambiguity lends itself brilliantly to the film’s minimalist thrill. As Moller keeps viewers at Holm’s end of the line, the film invites viewers to visualize for themselves the progressively grim situation along with him. “The Guilty” is one of the most chilling films I’ve ever seen for this reason. The grim atmosphere keeps both Holm and viewers in a state of white-knuckled uncertainty that makes each second of the film’s 85-minute runtime important.

The numerous revelations late in the film left me utterly shocked, and I’ll be pondering them for weeks to come. “The Guilty” is most assuredly not a “feel-good” film, however, and the revelations aren’t aimed at providing emotional relief.

As a result, while the film is practically perfect — the most glued I’ve been to a screen in months — I can’t in good conscience recommend it to stressed Truman students. The film is unapologetic, relentless and heartbreaking. At the same time, for any cinephile looking for a film that pulls absolutely no punches and shows the power of minimalist, compact storytelling, “The Guilty” shouldn’t be missed. Refusing to read subtitles is not an acceptable excuse to pass it up.