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Film / The Guilty

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The Guilty (Den skyldige) is a 2018 Danish film directed by Gustav Möller and starring Jakob Cedergren. It is a Police Procedural Thriller told from inside an emergency services dispatch center.

Asger Holm is a police officer assigned to work as an emergency services dispatcher because of a court case he's involved in that's due the next day. Shortly before the end of his shift, he receives a call from a woman by the name of Iben who seems to believe that she's talking to someone else. Then Asger realises that Iben is not alone…

An American remake, directed by Antoine Fuqua and starring Jake Gyllenhaal, was released in 2021 by Netflix.

Provides examples of:

  • Accidental Murder: Iben kills Oliver by gutting him under the impression that she's letting snakes out of his abdomen.
  • "Could Have Avoided This!" Plot: After he finds out the truth, Asger asks Michael why he did not simply call the police. Michael replies that he has no faith in the societal institutions that have failed him in the past.
  • Death of a Child: Iben and Michael's infant son Oliver was killed by Iben during one of her psychotic episodes.
  • Desk Sweep of Rage: Asger breaks his keyboard and desk lamp when Iben goes missing after having hit Michael with a brick and Asger is unable to reach her.
  • Disconnected by Death: Subverted. When Asger tries to convince Iben not to jump off a bridge, she says goodbye and the line goes dead. After a few tense moments, he calls the dispatcher who informs him that she stepped off the ledge and is alive and well.
  • Driven to Suicide: Iben's guilt over killing Oliver during a psychotic episode causes her to decide to jump off a bridge, leaving Asger to try to convince her not to.
  • Drowning My Sorrows: Rashid's guilty conscience over lying to cover for Asger and his nervousness over testifying the next day causes him to hit the bottle.
  • Drunk Driver: Asger calls Rashid to ask him to go to Michael's house to try and figure out where he's taking Iben. He notices that Rashid seems to be intoxicated, and asks how much he's had to drink. When told it was 2 or 3 beers, he tells Rashid that he can still drive after drinking that amount. Rashid then admits that it was more like 4 or 5 beers, to which Asger replies that he'll just have to drive very carefully. He makes it there without incident.
  • Entertainingly Wrong: Asger finds out that Michael came over to Iben's place, yelled a lot, and left with her, only for her to call emergency services and their infant son Oliver to be found gutted. Asger deduces that Michael killed Oliver and abducted Iben, likely planning to kill her too. What actually happened was that Michael found out that Iben had killed Oliver during a psychotic episode and took her to be committed to a psychiatric ward.
  • Extremely Short Timespan: The entire film takes place in Real Time during the last hour and a half of Asger's shift at the dispatch center.
  • Hallucinations: Iben hallucinated that Oliver had snakes in his abdomen (really his intestines) and cut him open to let them out and get him to stop crying.
  • He's Dead, Jim: When officer Tim tells Asger that Oliver is dead, Asger asks Tim how he knows. Tim replies that he could tell. Asger demands that Tim check if Oliver is breathing, causing Tim to snap that Oliver has been cut open.
  • I'll Pretend I Didn't Hear That: Asger calls Bo and tells him to send a dispatch to Michael's home to look for clues as to where he's taking Iben. Bo asks whether anybody is at home, to which Asger replies that he doesn't know, but that they'll have to break in if nobody is. Bo says he didn't hear what Asger said. Asger repeats himself only to get the same answer before he catches on.
  • Insane Equals Violent: Played With. Iben unwittingly kills her infant son Oliver during a psychotic episode under the belief that she's letting snakes out of his abdomen. However, she displays no aggressive tendencies and is horrified when she realizes what she has done.
  • Keeping Secrets Sucks: Rashid confides in Asger that lying about the latter's killing of a suspect has taken an emotional toll on him, and caused him to start drinking.
  • Killing in Self-Defense: Asger's cover story for having killed a young man in the line of duty.
  • The Kindnapper: Michael abducts Iben in order to take her to the psychiatric ward where she was treated before, knowing that she would not go there willingly.
  • Let Me Tell You a Story: While trying to convince Iben not to kill herself, Asger relates to her the story of a young man he killed in the line of duty to assuage her guilt.
  • Minimalism: The entire film takes place inside the dispatch centre, with no Cutaway Gags, Flashbacks, or Imagine Spots.
  • Minimalist Cast: For most of the film, only Asger is on screen. Some of his coworkers are also seen briefly, and the voices of several other characters are heard over the telephone.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Asger's attempts to help end up making things worse:
    • He tells Iben to put on her seatbelt and pull the handbrake to incapacitate Michael so she can get away from him. It doesn't work, and instead results in Michael putting her in the back of the van.
    • He tells Iben to grab a brick and hit Michael over the head when she gets the chance. She does, but since Michael never intended to hurt her, only bring her to the psychiatric ward where she could get the help she needed, it doesn't make anything better. Instead, Michael gets a concussion before he can bring her to the psychiatric ward and Iben herself goes missing.
  • Not His Blood: When officers Tim and Janne show up at Iben's place, her six-year-old daughter Mathilde opens the door covered in blood, which she says isn't hers. When Asger hears this, he gets worried, because he knows that her infant brother Oliver was also supposed to be at home…
  • Offing the Offspring: Iben kills her infant son during a psychotic episode.
  • Offscreen Breakup: Asger and Patricia split up before the events of the movie, presumably due to his killing of a young man in the line of duty and the upcoming trial. His colleagues don't know yet, and end up unknowingly rubbing salt in the wound.
  • Ominously Open Door: Rashid finds Michael's door open, indicating that he left in a hurry.
  • Outliving One's Offspring: Michael goes to his ex-wife Iben's place and finds that she has killed their infant son Oliver during a psychotic episode.
  • Phoney Call: Iben calls emergency services pretending to speak to her daughter Mathilde to avoid tipping off her abductor.
  • Police Procedural: An unusual twist on the genre, being told entirely from the perspective of an emergency dispatcher.
  • Poor Communication Kills: Michael had plenty of opportunities to set the record straight about what had happened and where he was taking Iben, but he chose not to. As a result, he becomes the subject of a completely unnecessary manhunt, and Iben runs off with Asger's help.
  • Real Time: The entire film takes place during the last hour and a half of Asger's shift at the dispatch center.
  • Reassigned to Antarctica: After killing a young man in the line of duty, Asger is relegated to answering calls at the dispatch centre pending trial.
  • Reluctant Psycho: Once it is over, Iben is horrified by her actions during one of her psychotic episodes.
  • The Reveal: Three.
    • Iben and Michael's infant son Oliver was killed.
    • Iben, not Michael, killed Oliver.
    • Asger killed a young man in the line of duty and then lied and said it was in self-defence.
  • Rudely Hanging Up: Happens a few times, such as when Asger reveals to Michael that he knows that he had done time in prison.
  • "Shaggy Dog" Story: Asger realizes towards the end that Iben was never in any danger and that all his efforts were in vain at best and made matters worse at worst.
  • Speech-Centric Work: The entire film unfolds through a series of phone calls.
  • Talking Down the Suicidal: Asger tries to convince Iben not to jump off a bridge after she's found out that she killed Oliver.
  • These Hands Have Killed: After her psychotic episode has ended, Iben sees Oliver's blood on her hands and realises that she killed him.
  • Tiger by the Tail: Rashid doesn't particularly want to keep lying about Asger's killing of a suspect to protect him, but fears what might happen if he were to change his story.
  • TV Telephone Etiquette: Averted. The characters say goodbye before hanging up except when they're Rudely Hanging Up or the call is otherwise interrupted.
  • Vigilante Execution: In the Back Story, Asger killed a young criminal and covered it up, claiming it was in self-defence and getting his partner Rashid to back up his story.
  • Visit by Divorced Dad: Prior to the events of the movie, Michael lost his visitation rights due to his criminal record. Mathilde tells Asger that she isn't allowed to visit her father, but that she memorized his phone number with his help. The movie begins shortly after he's visited anyway.
  • Wham Line: Says Iben about her infant son Oliver:
    "He kept crying because he had snakes in his stomach. I just took them out."