"The Guilty" is an effective, intense series of phone calls involving an emergency dispatcher. Reportedly, it's inspired by a true story as seen by writer-director Gustav Möller in a YouTube video, which does get at the ensnaring quality of such audio clips--perhaps because we just instantly recognize, being very familiar with them, how it raises the stakes of a situation. That's why "Zero Dark Thirty" (2012) began with just the 911 calls during the 9/11 terrorist attacks against a black screen. There's something both gracious in it, that it spares us from the filmmakers displaying gruesome visuals, and horrifying, in that it confronts us with compensating for that lack of visual depiction in the movies by imagining it ourselves and thus removing even the sense of safety we might have felt in the distance between our eyes and the screen, putting it instead in our heads. This is the first major reason this crime thriller works. It's great sound design. Shortlisted for the Best Foreign Language Oscar, I'm OK with it ultimately missing out on the nomination compared to the tone deafness of not nominating it for the sound awards. I mean, looking over those that were nominated, I like Queen songs and superhero movies, too, but make some room; this is more impressive.
The other major reason the intensity here works is the claustrophobic camerawork. The antecedent here is "12 Angry Men" (1957), but with the armchair detective in alternating states of isolation between adjoining rooms in relation to the severity and relative hopefulness or hopelessness of the drama--i.e. The worse it gets, the more he's alone. This does largely depend on a compelling performance from Jakob Cedergren, but the camera framing and production design shouldn't be taken for granted. I wonder how much effort they put into getting the beads of sweat rolling down his brow just right, too. It's a heightened situation that is both intensified by this claustrophobia and that calls attention to its artificial parameters, of not only the dispatcher in an office, but of the film style in staying there, as well. There's almost something deconstructive in it--just as the plot twists unravel the narrative. Indeed, eventually, Cedergren's Asger, after constructing his confinement, shades down and isolated in a room, starts deconstructing it by breaking stuff in a fit of anger--just one angry man.
Time now to see if there's a reason for the 2021 remake besides to serve illiterate Anglophones. (Edit: There isn't.)
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