Jesper W. Nielsen’s film opens to archival shots of Holocaust atrocities and Nuremberg Trials, with a calm female voice narrating how, when psychologists subjected SS leaders and concentration camp guards to a battery of tests, they found nothing remarkable or abnormal. This banality of evil runs through The Exception as four women working at a human rights NGO find themselves locked at odds with each other and battling an unknown adversary.

The lead characters are introduced against their workplace background of past and present genocides. All cope with this trauma in their own ways, and the workplace is cordial but far from warm. Librarian Anne-Lise (Sidse Babett Knudsen) battles visions of her own aggression, as secretary Camilla (Lene Maria Christensen) hides dark affair. Scholar Marlene (Amanda Collin) struggles with encroaching arthritis shrinking her world, and her co-author Iben (Danica Curcic) lives with PTSD from fieldwork. When Marlene and Iben receive identical death threats – perhaps from a terrorist they are profiling, perhaps from something more sinister and far closer to home – relationships fracture.

The Exception works best in the shadows that blur boundaries between external lives and internal visions. There is a terrible timeliness to a story where the scholars of nationalism, xenophobia, and the resulting atrocities fear for their lives. However, the mystery is far more compelling than the answer, and the film’s brilliantly shown introductions give way to increased narration. Considering its thoughtful opening, its switch from evil as pervasive force to single threat that must be explained away sells its ideas short.

The Exception is undone in an incongruously violent third act that seeks the fastest rather than the most satisfying answers. Nonetheless, it is a compelling thriller that grapples with how trauma metastasises in the body and mind, and how humans stubbornly seek normalcy despite the circumstances.



CAST: Danica Curcic, Amanda Collin, Sidse Babett Knudsen, Lena Maria Christiansen

DIRECTOR: Jesper W. Nielsen

WRITERS: Christian Jungersen (novel by), Christian Torpe (screenplay by)

SYNOPSIS: After two women working at an NGO start receiving death threats, they and their colleagues first suspect a terrorist leader they are profiling – and then begin to suspect the source may be closer to home.