Director Jesper W Nielson once again exchanges television for cinema with the release of the Danish thriller The Exception, based upon the best-selling novel by Christian Jungersen. Exploring themes of PTSD, workplace bullying and the criminal underworld, the book presents a wide range of expressive and nerve-jangling material for the filmmaker to use at his behest, so the heat from genre fanatics’ building anticipation must have helped propel this creation. Nonetheless, the project is complete and blessed with a superb cast of heavy hitters.
The Exception investigates a small NGO bureau in Copenhagen and four women who specialise together in genocide and international affairs. For three of them – Iben (Danica Curcic), Malene (Amanda Collin) and Camilla (Lene Maria Christensen) – work is a welcome way of easing their consciences from the guilt of their secret past lives. But for Anne-Lise (Sidse Babett Knudsen), the tight-knit nature of the others’ friendship – paired with her growing suspicions that they simply do not like her – make her an outcast. The dynamic’s already frayed and tangled threads suddenly become further strained when Iben and Malene begin receiving death threats, possibly from a notorious Serbian war criminal. Before long, the distrust starts mounting the characters against each other and knives begin to come out.
The plot is driven by the four leading actors, all of whom carry their own traumas. These differing backgrounds and personality traits benefit the narrative, likely thanks to the original text’s in-depth attention that went into manifesting the novel’s personas. Due to the work of Nielson, none of this scrupulous development is lost in the transferring from page to screen. With heightened scepticism emerging as the women’s circumstances become increasingly rocky, it becomes evident that the director’s handling of elements such as mental health disorders is exemplary, much to the benefit of the movie.
The Exception grows exponentially unsettling as more is unearthed about each character. The commanding performances from the cast – paired with the abstract cinematography from Erik Zappon – helps propel this sense of unease further. Likewise, a symphony accompaniment of strings further tightens the screws on the frame of this portrait that slowly unveils itself in a tasty little twist as the final curtain falls.
Much like its literary parent, the core aim of the film is to present an emotional, stress-building watch that reveals very few answers until its concluding chapter. However, the flick falls short through a number of far-fetched moments which feature some making rash decisions once colleagues begin suspecting each other, resulting in a few scenes being considerably less believable. The picture also comes across as fairly dull in its lacklustre approach to threatening possibilities. It could be argued that the story would be better suited to a television series – which is perhaps reinforced by the director’s previous work in the medium. However, ultimately as a feature-length movie, The Exception is a psychological thriller that sadly lacks excitement for large portions of its 115-minute runtime.
The Exception is released digitally on demand on 22nd January 2021.
Watch the trailer for The Exception here: