Evil is a weighty word to be throwing around, however casually, though the implications of such a label are often far from casual. Based on the bestselling Danish novel by Christian Jungerson, in director Jesper W. Neilsen’s The Exception, evil is front and centre, manifesting into the world in a variety of ways that lead to serious —even lethal— consequences.
The film follows Iben (Danica Curcic) and Malene (Amanda Collin), two close friends who work at the Danish Centre for Information on Genocide alongside Camilla (Lene Maria Christensen) and Anne-Lise (Sidse Babett Knudsen). Each of the four women are dealing with their own personal demons; Iben suffers from PTSD, which stems from her time in Nairobi where she served as an aid worker but was kidnapped and tortured by war criminals. For Malene, it’s the increasing severity of her arthritis and the seemingly inevitable future that she cannot possibly be loved by a man as a healthy woman can. Anne-Lise is the newest addition to the team, and struggles to get along with the others, despite her best efforts. As for Camilla, she rarely discusses her private life, preferring to keep secrets to herself. One evening, Iben and Malene both receive threatening anonymous emails which they believe pertains to their work at the Genocide Centre —the women were co-authors on a paper entitled ‘Psychology of Evil’. The project focused on a war criminal Mirko Zigic (Borut Veselko) who killed and raped hundreds as the head of a Serbian militia. Such violence has followed him into the present where he continues to commit crimes including assassinations, blackmail and human trafficking. But “normality is not always obtainable” for those who have acted so atrociously. The past never leaves you.
Initially, Iben and Malene think that Zirgic must be behind the emails, threatening them into silence. Yet, as the days begin to unfold, and Anne-Lise continually fails to integrate herself with Iben, Malene, and Camilla, the other women begin to suspect her of sending the messages. Soon after, Malene’s boyfriend traces the emails origin using spyware, he uncovers who is behind the threats, only for him to mysteriously fall from his balcony the very same day. As a result, a game of suspicion and malice comes to fruition between the four women, escalating into invasiveness and, as it cannot be avoided, brutal danger.
The Exception is a slow-burn, psychological thriller where no one is as they seem. The opening scene, though short, is immediately gripping and undeniably establishes the mood for the rest of the film. There is nothing extraordinary about the cinematography or the lighting, yet a clever use of shadows is seen here and there so as to fashion a feeling that things are slightly . . . split. Neilsen’s piece unfolds gradually indeed, and it’s just slow enough to be rendered stagnant every now and then. But when the sharp music finally kicks in, the scenes are elevated in their seriousness and one’s interest in the story is renewed.
The most enticing aspect of this film, however, is definitely the scene breaks, when Iben reads from the ‘Psychology of Evil’ and her voiceover compliments the images flashing on screen. The images are enough to churn one’s stomach with both fright and empathy. Additionally, Danica Curcic’s performance as the quietly tortured Iben is something to be admired.
The second half of the film picks up its pace, yet is still restrained in its revelations of the truth; the final twenty minutes is where the bloody fun really begins and makes it worth the stretched-out runtime.
There are as many kinds of evil as there are people, as there are human minds. Sometimes, because of how complex such a force is, because of how deeply embedded it can become in our lives, it may be impossible to fully yank out such a root. But, as The Exception urges, we must try . . . mustn’t we?
The Exception is available on VOD on January 22nd
by Kacy Hogg
Kacy is an English Lit student living in the Great White North (no not Winterfell unfortunately), Canada. Her favourite films include the Harry Potter series, Cinderella, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, The Hangover, and Lady Bird. She’s also an avid binge-watcher of Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead. You can follow her on Twitter here: @KacHogg95