Movie Review: The Guilty (2018)
In “The Guilty,” a woman is kidnapped by her ex, alerts the police by pretending to call her daughter, and the cops spend the rest of the movie frantically searching for her before it’s too late.
And it all takes place in an emergency police dispatch room.
Most of the movie is 112 operator Asger Holm (Jakob Cedergren in a standout performance) working the phones, doing what he can, and often more, to bring her back safely. We see him, but only hear the other end of the line. We have to imagine that part. It’s almost like radio.
And it’s riveting.
The evening for Asger begins in almost comic fashion as he receives 112 (i.e., 911) calls that really aren’t. A man is mugged ... by the hooker he was soliciting. There’s a fight at a bar ... and the drunk caller expects Asger to know where it is and curses him when he doesn’t. A woman phones from a car ... and talks nonsense and calls him “Sweetie.” Asger is about to hang up on her, too, when something she says triggers the cop in him and he realizes she’s being kidnapped. By the time they’re disconnected, he knows she’s in a white van heading north from Copenhagen. He relays this info forward. Normally that would be the end of it for him. Others are now on the case.
Asger, though, stays involved. He’s a cop, doing dispach work temporarily, and his computer lets him know the name and number of who called—Iben (voice of Jessica Dinage)—so he phones Iben’s home phone. Her daughter Mathilde ( Katinka Evers-Jahnsen), 6 years old, answers. She’s alone but for her brother, Oliver, who’s just a baby. After she gives Asger the information he needs—her father is named Michael (Johan Olsen), this is his phone number, he was mad, he had a knife—he can’t get her off the phone. She’s scared and alone and he makes promises he knows he shouldn’t make: mostly that her mother will be alright.
Asger, we soon realize, has issues of his own. He’s a foot patrolman who’s being disciplined and has a hearing the next day. Later we find out he shot and killed a man in self-defense. Except after he convinces his partner, Rashid (Omar Shargawi), to break into Michael’s home for clues, we infer from their conversation that it wasn’t in self-defense. One wonders: Is his desperate attempt to save Iben a way to assuage his guilt? Or is it more of what got him into trouble in the first place? Or both?
The horror intensifies when two patrolman are sent to Iben’s house and find Mathilde with blood on her. Not her blood. Oliver’s. He’s dead in his crib. Cut to pieces.
First-time director Gustav Möller, whose work here won him best director at the Seattle International Film Festival, makes it all come to life within that small, confined space. But here’s the best part: the movie we think we’re watching isn’t the movie we’re watching.
M. Night, eat your heart out
We think we’re watching a movie about a cop who maybe redeems himself by maybe saving a woman from her crazy, murderous ex-husband. Indeed, when Iben calls again, he tells her to put on her seatbelt and then pull up the emergency brake. She does. The phone goes dead. Is she dead? No. When she calls back, she’s been bundled into the back of the van and is hysterical. He calms her down. He gets her to talk about things she likes. She says she takes her kids to The Blue Planet, an aquarium in Copenhagen. Mathilde goes for the turtles. Iben says she likes it all. She likes the calm and the quiet of life underwater. And it’s working. She’s calming down. They’re bonding. Now he’s telling her to find a weapon to use against Michael when he opens the van doors. And just before he does, she mentions the snakes. “Snakes?” Asger says. Yes, she says. The snakes in Oliver’s belly. She got them out for him.
It was her. She killed her son. Her ex isn’t kidnapping her, he’s taking her back to a psychiatric facility in Elsinore—home of Hamlet—so she won’t do more harm. But because of Asger’s dogged determination to help, she’s able to escape—for a time. It’s one of the greater plot twists I’ve seen in recent movies. M. Night Shyamalan, eat your heart out. And please don’t try to remake it.
That said, does it hold up when you examine it from all sides? Why, for example, wouldn’t Michael simply have called the cops when he came across the crime scene? Why take his ex to Elsinore himself? And leave his 6-year-old alone with a baby corpse?
I still highly recommend it. As you watch this movie about a hero cop and a damsel in distress, you wonder who “The Guilty” of the title refers to. It winds up referring to the hero cop and the damsel in distress.