The Guilty (2018)


The Guilty (2018)
Den skyldige (original title)

Alarm dispatcher Asger Holm answers an emergency call from a kidnapped woman. When the call is suddenly disconnected, the search for the woman and her kidnapper begins. With the phone as his only tool, Asger enters a race against time to save the endangered woman. But soon he realizes that he is dealing with a crime that is far bigger than he first thought.
IMDb   7.5 /10
Metacritic   83 %
TheMovieDb    7.3 /10
FilmAffinity   6.8 /10
Release Date2018-06-14
Runtime1h 25min
GenreCrime, Drama, Thriller
Content RatingR (R)
Awards36 wins & 42 nominations.
CompanyNordisk Film / SPRING, Nordisk Film Production, Det Danske Filminstitut
Rashid (voice)
Michael (voice)
Bo (voice) (as Jacob Hauberg Lohmann)
Vagtleder Nordsjælland (voice)
Junkie (voice)
Journalist (voice)
Mand på Skælbækgade (voice)
Mand ved natklub (voice)
Fuld kvinde (voice)
Politiassistent i hus (voice)
Politiassistent i bil (voice)
Alarmoperatør #1

The Guilty (2018 film)

The Guilty (Danish: Den skyldige) is a 2018 Danish crime thriller film co-written and directed by Gustav Möller, his debut film. It was screened in the World Cinema Dramatic Competition section at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival. The film was distributed in the U.S. by Magnolia Pictures. It was selected as the Danish submission for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 91st Academy Awards, making the December shortlist.


Asger Holm, a Copenhagen police officer awaiting a hearing for shooting and killing a 19-year-old man, is assigned to answer emergency calls at the Emergency East desk. On the evening before the hearing, he receives a call from a woman named Iben Østergård, who does not say she has an emergency and acts as if she is talking to a child. Initially about to hang up, Asger guesses the distressed Iben is not alone and asks her yes and no questions; she discreetly reveals she has been abducted but explicitly mentions a white van. Tracing the call by the nearest cellphone tower, Asger calls the North Zealand station to tell them to look for a white van driving north. The North Zealand dispatcher tells him this is not enough information and a licence plate number and specific location are required. Asger talks to the North Zealand patrol car, who pull over a light-coloured van but let it go when no woman is found inside.

Becoming absorbed in the case, Asger looks up information about Iben Østergård and finds a home telephone number, calling it. Iben's six-year-old daughter Mathilde answers. Mathilde says her father Michael Berg was at the house, despite being separated from Iben, and drives a white van. Michael had gone into the room of Mathilde's baby brother Oliver and shouted, apparently at Oliver, Mathilde says. Michael then grabbed Iben and left with her. Mathilde also gives Asger her father's phone number. Asger tells Mathilde to go look after her baby brother and calls North Zealand to have police sent over to Iben's house to check on Mathilde and Oliver; he learns Michael has a criminal record.

Night shift arrives and though technically off the job, Asger moves into a separate room to continue following Iben's case. Intermittently, Asger speaks again to Iben, who says she does not want to be locked up. He also speaks to the police at the Østergård house, who find Mathilde is covered in blood. The officers check Oliver's room and find the baby has been cut open and is deceased. Asger is devastated, and asks his colleague Rashid to break into Michael's house for clues as to his destination. It is revealed that Asger and Rashid conspired to give false testimony at the hearing, which worries Rashid. After deliberating, Asger phones Michael's number and argues with him, with Asger shouting Michael should be executed.

The van is heading to Elsinore, and Asger speaks again to Iben. Worried that Michael might kill Iben, Asger instructs Iben to hit Michael with a brick. Iben says Oliver is fine now and no longer crying. Asger asks her what she means, and Iben says Oliver had snakes in his stomach and was crying, so she cut them out to help him. The call is disconnected, leaving Asger in shock. Asger receives a call from Rashid at Michael's house, who finds records showing Michael lost visitation rights due to his criminal record, while Iben spent time in a psychiatric hospital in Elsinore. Asger realizes Michael was taking Iben to the hospital because she unknowingly killed their son. He tells Rashid not to lie at the hearing and calls Michael again, who says Iben hit him and escaped. Asger receives another call from Iben, who is about to jump off a bridge, after realizing she killed her son. He confesses to her he shot a man and it was not in self-defense, but he says unlike him he knows Iben did not mean to harm anyone. With the noise of police officers approaching, Asger urges her to surrender to them. He speaks again to North Zealand, who confirm they have Iben and congratulate him on his work. He gets up from his desk and slowly walks away while his colleagues, who heard his confession to Iben, watch in disbelief.


  • Jakob Cedergren as Asger Holm
  • Jessica Dinnage as Iben Østergård (voice)
  • Omar Shargawi as Rashid (voice)
  • Johan Olsen as Michael Berg (voice)
  • Katinka Evers-Jahnsen as Mathilde Østergård (voice)
  • Jacob Lohmann as Bo (voice)
  • Simon Bennebjerg as Nikolaj Jensen (voice)
  • Laura Bro as Tanja Brix (voice)
  • Morten Thunbo as Torben


The genesis of the film was a YouTube clip of a kidnapped woman calling an emergency dispatcher while her kidnapper sat nearby. Möller was struck by how much an audio clip could convey on its own with no visual accompaniment. "It felt like I was seeing images just listening to sound," he said. "It felt like I had seen this woman; I had an idea of the car she was sitting in and the road they were driving on." Another influence was the podcast Serial, about the 1999 murder of a Maryland student. "With every episode I got new information about the people involved and the places and occurrences. With every episode my image of these people changed." Möller and co-writer Emil Nygaard Albertsen followed up by doing research at Danish dispatch centers, The characters emerged from there, including the idea of the main character being a police officer under investigation, who had been reassigned from the field to desk duty.

The research also inspired the intentionally drab set. "When I got out to the first dispatch center, I had expected something much more high tech," Möller said. "And then I saw this room that looked like a shitty office and I loved that. I loved that contrast of these cops dealing with life and death and they're sitting in this boring, kind of dirty room. So that's what I wanted in the production design."

Confining the film to a police dispatch center helped limit the budget to a frugal €500,000 (US$570,671) while forcing the filmmakers to work more creatively. Möller and his director of photography, Jasper Spanning, divided the script into eight segments, changing the camera lenses and cinematic approach for each. The screen time for each segment ultimately ranged from 5 to 35 minutes. Filming employed a three-camera setup and took 13 days. Post-production sound editing took another eight weeks.

After The Guilty's debut, Möller received requests for remake rights from around the world, but declined personal involvement in any of them, preferring instead to work on new projects. However in December 2018, it was announced Jake Gyllenhaal had acquired rights to the movie and would star in and produce a remake under his Nine Stories Productions banner, alongside Bold Films.


Critical reception

As of June 2020, the film holds a 98% approval rating on the review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes based on 120 reviews, and an average rating of 7.94/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "Sleek, well-acted, and intelligently crafted, The Guilty is a high-concept thriller that wrings maximum impact out of a handful of basic—and effective—ingredients." Metacritic assigned the film a normalized score of 83 out of 100, based on 23 critics, indicating "universal acclaim".


AwardDate of ceremonyCategoryRecipient(s)ResultRef(s)
Austin Film Critics Association7 January 2019Best Foreign Language FilmNominated
Bodil Awards2 March 2019Best Danish FilmGustav MöllerNominated
Best ActorJakob CedergrenWon
Blockbuster TalentGustav MöllerWon
National Board of Review27 November 2018Top 5 Foreign Language FilmsWon
Satellite Awards17 February 2019Best Foreign Language FilmNominated
St. Louis Film Critics Association16 December 2018Best Foreign Language FilmNominated
Robert AwardsFebruary 2019
Best Danish FilmGustav MöllerWon
Best ActorJakob CedergrenWon
Best DirectorGustav MöllerWon


In 2018, it was announced that Nine Stories and Jake Gyllenhaal had bought the American rights to The Guilty with Gyllenhaal set to star. In 2020, it was announced the film would be directed by Antoine Fuqua and be adapted by Nic Pizzolatto. The film was shot at a single Los Angeles location sometime in November. Peter Sarsgaard, Ethan Hawke, and Riley Keough were confirmed to join the cast. In September 2020, Netflix acquired worldwide distribution rights for the film for $30 million.