Undtagelsen (The Exception): Review. By Trent Neely.
This Danish film, based on the Christian Jungersen novel of the same name follows four women working for the Danish Center for Information on Genocide: Iben (Danica Curcic), Malene (Amanda Collin), Anne-Lise (Sidse Babett Knudsen) and Camilla (Lene Maria Christensen). Their focus lies in researching what influences humans to commit atrocities against other people in all its facets. While the group seems to have a relatively normal work relationship, Anne-Lise feels she does not share the same level of friendship that the other women do, particularly Iben and Malene.
This feeling of exclusion intensifies when Iben and Malene receive anonymous emails containing threats against them. While at first they suspect it is a war criminal they are researching, their suspicions soon turn to Anne-Lise, creating further friction and suspicion among the group. The film follows these women as they navigate their relationships with one another, try to uncover who sent the emails, and deal with the worst parts of human nature including their own.
Perhaps this film’s greatest strength is how thoroughly it examines what stress and trauma can do to an individual, and the nature of horrific actions themselves. Not only does our protagonist’s job offer a look at some of the darkest aspects of humanity and how humans have justified it throughout history. But, each of our protagonists wrestles with personal trauma as well. As stated before, Anne-Lise feels that she is being isolated from her co-workers and while it is not openly aggressive in nature, the group’s refusal to admit it bothers her.
Once they accuse her of sending the threats, her anger increases to levels surprising even herself, causing to wonder if she had sent the threats and repressed her memories. For her part, Iben survived a hostage crisis in Kenya. Malene suffers from severe arthritis and as a result her relationship boyfriend Rasmus (Simon Sears) is deteriorating. Camilla struggles to move past an unhealthy relationship from her past. All these stressors combine over the course of the film to drive the characters to take a variety of actions, consisting of varying degrees of intensity and morality.
The cast and crew do a great job of making sure that each of these women are not shown as simple archetypes or cliches, but rather three-dimensional people. Director Jesper W. Nielsen and writer Christian Torpe take the time to unflinchingly show these women as they are, good qualities and bad, their motivations always understood. The cast also does a great job of bringing life into these characters, showing strong women, but with a lot of complexity and authenticity. Knudsen is a particular standout as Annie-Lise, perfectly portraying the mixture of rage and sadness of one who feels unfairly judged and isolated, and who grows to fear what she may be capable of.
The cinematography by Erik Zappon always serves the story and character. At times the camera is uncomfortably close, almost entering a character’s head during a moment of reflection. At other times, distant and cold , taking on the presence of a stalking figure hanging over the characters, adding to their unease as well as the audience’s. Adding to this effect is great music by Henrik Lindstrand, whose string-based score while never overpowering, fills the audience with a sense of unease, and editing by Frederik Strunk that perfectly divides time among the leads and steadily increases the tension.
If there is a weakness in the film it comes in the last twenty minutes. Until this point, the film serves as a thorough character study and meditation on the nature of evil and what can push people to make certain choices. The final twenty minutes takes the audience through a couple of tropes often done in thrillers that some audience members may find derivative and at times out of place.
If you are looking for a thriller with strong performances, great music, cinematography, and a nuanced look at human nature, check out this film if given the chance.
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