Part history lesson and part psycho-thriller, Jesper W. Nielsen’s The Exception digs deep into the lives of four women working at a small NGO in Copenhagen. As a team, they investigate genocide in third world countries, but when two of them start receiving death threats by email, each begins to suspect the other. Soon lies, deceit and manipulation transform their relationships beyond repair.
Bolstered by a smartly written script, this gripping Danish drama plays out as an intense character study. Each woman is angry or scared for different reasons: Camilla (Lene Maria Christensen) is having an affair with a dangerous man after struggling for friends at school; Anne-Lise (Sidse Babett Knudsen) feels threatened by the other women; Malene (Amanda Collin) suffers from intense premature arthritis and is quickly dumped by her boyfriend; Iben (Danica Curcic) suffers PTSD hallucinations after being held hostage in Nairobi on a work trip. Everyone has a reason to snap or do the wrong thing because, for too long, people have not done the right thing by them.
And so the games begin: tension rises, suspicions swirl and accusations fly. Throughout, the film compares its double-crossing protagonists to the horrific war criminals their work scrutinises. Everyone, it suggests, is capable of committing great evil – but can also repress those urges. This theory gives each woman ample room to explore what that means to them. Are they good, kind people with occasionally erratic impulses – or is one of them worse than the others?
The Exception follows a few familiar tropes and is too simplistic to create genuine intrigue around its ideas, but some compelling performances – particularly from Curcic – help flesh the film’s complex message out a bit. Over the course of the story, the viewer’s relationship with these characters ping-pongs from trust to fear and back again. In the end, it’s up to you to decide who genuinely wants what’s best, and who is protecting the truth. You’ll change your mind about five times before the credits roll.
- Director: Jesper W. Nielsen
- Starring: Amanda Collin, Danica Curcic, Lena Maria Christensen
- Release date: January 22 (all major digital platforms)