“The Guilty”: Jake Gyllenhaal captivates the audience in a one-man thriller


Jake Gyllenhaal stars as a 911 operator in Netflix Original thriller “The Guilty”. [PHOTO COURTESY TO EMPIRE]

Thriller movies are known for evoking extreme suspense and excitement among viewers. When you think of thrillers, a scene of a man sitting at his desk for ninety minutes does not instantly come to mind. Yet the Netflix Original “The Guilty” was able to deliver a captivating narrative while essentially only featuring one actor in one general location for the entire film.

Nowadays, years of production and millions of dollars are invested into crafting a final product complete with gory images, wild-eyed villains and haunting settings; this film contrasts sharply by stripping down the complex visuals and instead highlights the emotional nuances of the main character.

The film features Joe Baylor, played by Jake Gyllenhaal, a policeman who has been temporarily assigned the responsibility of responding to 911 calls. The film takes place inside the police center, with the plot being developed through the dialogue between Baylor and his callers. The story focuses on one particularly disturbing 911 call Baylor receives, with suspense leading up to the conclusion.

When the movie was shot in 2020, COVID-19 was at its height. The screenplay itself was fully shot in 11 days, which is considerably quick for a long-form film. According to an interview Jake Gyllenhaal conducted on Jimmy Fallon, Antoine Fuqua, the director, tested positive for COVID-19 just a few days before production began. Since he was not able to be in contact with anyone, he ended up directing the film from a van with screens that had access to the camera, communicating to the cast and crew remotely. Although, without doing any research, viewers would not expect this as the film seems just as well directed as any other movie.

Despite the many challenges that threatened the success of this film, the final product did not fall short. Though it doesn’t compare to the elaborate graphics, set design, and casting in some popular films like the ones produced by the Marvel Franchise, “The Guilty” takes filmmaking in a new direction.

The horrors and chills are cleverly delivered through the dialogue, causing the viewer’s imagination to run wild as they picture what is being described. Gyllenhaal’s emotional performance brings the script to life, along with the other voice actors on the other side of the call. All the 911 calls in the film were performed in real time, with the voice actors on a live zoom call as they conversed with Gyllenhaal, further bringing the film to life.

All the real-life delays and sounds from the call are kept in the film, allowing the viewer to feel as if they are there with them. “It really allowed me to take on the story as more of a first person narrative. Everything he did seemed like something I would do in that situation,” Victoria B. (‘23) said, after watching “The Guilty.”

The final product is a unique thriller full of surprising twists that, quite literally, kept myself and others on the edge of our seats. “The twists really subverted my expectations and had a lot of deeper meanings than what I would’ve initially expected,” Victoria said.

I personally did not even realize the entire movie was shot in one location until watching behind the scenes videos and interviews. I was even more amazed when I realized that many scenes were shot all the way through without any cuts, to capture the authenticity of live phone calls.

Even as someone who doesn’t typically enjoy thriller films, “The Guilty” kept me fully invested and desperate to get to the bottom of the story.