Danish Thriller ‘The Exception’ Explores Evil In The Workplace: Review

the exception review

It may not have the best grasp on the nature of evil, but The Exception provides an intriguing story aided along by excellent acting performances.

After the last nine months of working from home and social distancing, many have been yearning for their old lives—even going back to the office now sounds appealing. If you’re looking to rid yourself of this reminiscence, a watch of The Exception might just do the trick. The film depicts a close-knit work environment with all the complicated relationships and vaguely sinister dynamics that come with it, only with the added layer of human capacity for cruelty. That last one might not be so relatable, come to think of it. 

The Exception, directed by Danish filmmaker Jesper W. Nielsen, takes place in the office of an NGO specialising in the study of genocide. The four women who work there have mixed relationships, some being close friends and some being at odds with each other. Tensions begin flaring more severely, however, when death threats begin arriving in invoices. In an atmosphere of mistrust and fear, divisions are made more and more prominent, especially when combined with failing relationships, trauma and a potential Siberian war criminal. 

If you’re a fan of Danish crime dramas such as The Killing or Quicksand, then there’s a strong likelihood that you’ll enjoy this film. Its structure and pacing are fantastic examples of what makes the genre work. Characters are fueled not just by the events and happenings of the story, but by pre-existing trauma, guilt and insecurities. All of these elements clash in scenes where you can really understand the conflict each character is feeling, whilst seeing how it is demonstrated in less than healthy ways. It, of course, helps here that all the main characters are superbly well played, with Danica Curcic especially standing out. Each character is very distinct in their aims and conflicts, and the variety of acting showcases this fact.

The film also benefits from an incredibly well-written screenplay, courtesy of screenwriter Christian Torpe. The film is laden with twists and turns that feel organic and subtle ideas are set up throughout the story that pays off in unexpected ways. The plot points are set up in such a casual way as to feel unimportant, then are immediately eclipsed so that you can’t help but forget about them. These elements keep the story surprising and engaging, building towards a mystery which contains several elements that I doubt you’ll see coming. A successful call back is always a nice feeling, as it rewards you for picking up on the little details, and there are plenty of these hidden details to keep you guessing as to what’ll come of it throughout the film.

Aside from the compelling characters and story, the technical aspects on display is worthy of recognition. There’s some really nice cinematography at play throughout, utilising reflections, translucent window panes and shadows to showcase action and character change, hammering home the tone of uncertainty and mistrust. The different set pieces and locations are mostly standard city and domestic settings, so the creative cinematography adds a lot to the visual spectacle. Meanwhile, the score effectively adds to the feeling of panic and anxiety that the characters face. There’s a lot of heavy-handed use of violins that might make one reminiscent of the Sherlock soundtrack, but it still reliably adds to the tone of the film. The use of creative technical elements in a thriller plays a big part in creating the desired sinister and engrossing atmosphere, so it’s always nice to see thrillers lean into these elements more.

Where the film stumbles amidst all this praise, however, is in its slightly incoherent thesis about the nature of evil. Narration describing the nature of evil and its effect on everyday people is littered throughout via voiceover, but it aims towards a rather vague notion of ‘anyone is capable of evil’, in a way that suggests that one moment a person can just snap and act without motivation (mostly to justify some of the more outlandish moments in the plot). The way the film defends the point is quite weak and is rather off-putting in moments when the characters are interesting enough to watch it without. 

The Verdict

All in all, The Exception is a well-plotted, well-acted, and sufficiently intriguing thriller piece which is worthy of recommendation. It serves as an entertaining watch that’ll keep you guessing and leave you incredulous by its end, in more ways than one. Whilst its thematic intention may fall just short of fascinating, there’s still enough intriguing material from the characters and writing to pique your interest.

Rating: 6/10

The Exception will be released on iTunes, Sky Store, Google Play, Amazon, Virgin, Curzon Home Cinema & Chili from 25 January.

Words by Mischa Alexander

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