Working relations between four women working at a Danish research facility escalate dangerously when death threats are received and suspicions start to turn within the team in Jesper W. Nielsen’s The Exception.
Workplace bloodlustby Chris Drew
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
Based on Christian Jungersen’s novel (adapted for the screen by Christian Torpe) Jesper W. Nielsen’s Danish psychological thriller focusses on a quartet of colleagues Iben (Danica Curcic, The Mist), Malene (Amanda Collin, Raised by Wolves), Anne-Lise (Sidse Babett Knudsen, Borgen) and Camilla (Lene Maria Christensen, Brothers) whose work concentrates on research into crimes against humanity.
The nature of their work is gradually reflected in the uneasy nature of their working relationships as close friends Iben and Malene clash with newer co-worker Anne-Lise. Frosty conversations and awkward silences intensify to accusations of workplace bullying, distrust and paranoia.
When Iben and Malene receive vicious death threats by email, the initial suspects are dangerous people they have investigated or those connected to a horrific kidnapping Iben had survived in Africa (and we are shown is still hugely affected by). But as workplace tensions spiral, Iben and Malene begin to suspect Anne-Lise is responsible for the emails.
As the mystery of the origin of the threats accelerates there are clever changes of perspective which cast doubt and suspicion on all the key protagonists and continually alter the audience’s allegiances. Twinned with this is the use of ambiguous imaginary sequences where it is not always clear in which character’s mind the fantasy is playing.
At regular intervals we see harrowing footage bringing to life Iben’s article The Psychology of Evil, with her commentary giving insight into the inner minds of those behind the most horrific war crimes as Iben ponders if everyone may be capable of evil.
Nielsen orchestrates a number of superbly suspenseful scenes notably where Anne-Lise goes ‘undercover’ at a choir practice to find out more about Camilla but then has to desperately try to escape without being found out.
Key to the success of the film is the strength of the performances and all four Danish actresses deliver.
Curcic is soulful as a woman haunted by past trauma, Collin is effective at portraying the spikey Malene’s suspicions while also battling debilitating arthritis and in a smaller role Christensen brings Camilla’s conflicted inner desires to life in a couple of key scenes.
But it is Knudsen as Anne-Lise who really shines, often displaying the slightest wound at a hurtful comment with the slightest flicker of an eye.
The Exception delivers as an office drama, gripping mystery and as a study into inner malevolence with multi-layered female characters at the centre.
The Exception is released across all major UK digital Pplatforms on 22 January including iTunes, AppleTV, Sky Store, Google Play, Amazon, Virgin, Curzon Home Cinema and Chili (BT on rental only from 1 February.)