Writer: Christian Torpe
Director: Jesper W. Nielsen
The toxic workplace is a frequent trope in popular culture but rarely is it the subject of a film in its own right. Jesper Nielsen’s The Exception, which comes to digital download on 22 January, is an exciting and creditable psychothriller set in a small team of archivists and researchers that skilfully creates the slow-burn effect of resentful colleagues while drawing effective parallels with their work on dictators and genocides.
Good friends Malene and Iben work closely together at a genocide research centre along with colleague Camilla. When a new member of staff arrives, Anne-Lise, who sits in a separate room, the group are suspicious and start to close ranks against her. When threatening emails are sent to Malene and Iben, a witch-hunt begins and tensions reach boiling point.
Nielsen’s film written by Christian Torpe from Christian Jungersen’s novel is a well-constructed exploration of workplace bullying, and much of the film is given over to the increasingly hostile relationship between these four office workers and the slowly ratcheting tension as paranoia becomes something much more complicated. Nielsen is fairly even-handed in giving equal time to the perspective of each of the three key characters across its two hour running time, and while the audience is quite firmly on the side of the bullied colleague, why and how these group dynamics emerge is well handled.
Jungersen and Torpe are making larger points about the psychology of behaviour, drawing direct parallels between Iben’s research paper on fascist societies and the collective social responsibility for genocide with the activities unfolding in the office which adds an interesting depth to the film. How and why ordinary people develop these behaviours, a pack mentality and suspicion of outsiders feeds through the action of the film while the characters explore guilt and the need for rational thinking to go against the grain. The small-scale office setting makes for an often-fascinating case study.
As Iben, Danica Curcic drives the film, a fragile woman drawn along by her much stronger friend but with a gentler side that recognises her own wrongdoing. Amanda Collin’s Malene is fairly uncompromising and despite an affecting arthritis storyline she is hard to empathise with while Sidse Babett Knudsen brings lots of inner turmoil as the bullied Anne-Lise who elicits our sympathy as she dreads every moment of her working day. There is good support from Lena Marie Christensen as secretary Camilla. motivated by the need to feel included and Olaf Johannessen as the ineffectual male boss who fails to act decisively.
The rapid change of pace in the final section of the film feels superfluous as the story tips over into a melodramatic and somewhat tangential action sequence that prompts a relatively unsurprising conclusion to the email-writing story that the audience may already have guessed. Nonetheless The Exception excels in its small-scale portrayal of toxic workplace culture and the evolution of negative behaviours in a gripping claustrophobic drama.
The Exception will released across all major UK Digital Platforms on 22nd January including iTunes, AppleTV, Sky Store, Google Play, Amazon, Virgin, Curzon Home Cinema & Chili (& BT on rental only from 1st Feb)
Release date 22 January 2021