It’s universal, this art of the thriller. We all love the genre. Writer Ken Follet tell us it’s simply getting the reader, or the viewer to become emotionally involved. Alfred Hitchcock did it, Stephen King certainly does it, and Guillermo Del Toro polished it to an art form. Agreed.

My rule is simple. The artist must keep me from, at least, lifting that third handful of popcorn from the bag. Simple.

First-time director Gustav Möller, working from a script he co-wrote with Emil Nygaard Albertsen knows it, and he never wastes a moment in getting us involved.

“The Guilty” is an old time thriller in the style of Anatole Litvak’s 1948 “Sorry, Wrong Number,” that’s designed to keep us sitting up.

Möller has only 85 minutes in which to hold us in one hand, and keep us from drifting away. His key solo player, a commanding Jakob Cedergren, holds us in the other.

Copenhagen. We’re in the radio room of a police station during the late shift for the Emergency Services Department — Denmark for 911.

Asger Holm (Jakob Cedergren) is here, and he’s not happy. A longtime street cop, Asger doesn’t want to be anchored to a desk and a computer, fielding complaints.

He’s here because he got himself in trouble with a shooting earlier in the month. Was it a good shoot? Doesn’t matter, it’s not why we’re here.

Tonight, Asger concentrates on his job, as one annoying call after another comes through: a drunk, a girl who skinned her knee and wants an ambulance, a bar fight.

Then close to end of shift, Iben (Jessica Dinnage) calls.

“Hello, Sweetie,” she says softly. “How are you? Don’t be afraid … Mommy will … be … home soon.”

Her voice is full of fear, and she’s been crying. She keeps talking in broken sentences with long pauses dotted with sniffles.

It’s clear that she has dialed 911 for help, and is now pretending to be talking to a child to avoid alarming her captor.

Asger, catching on, plays along, tries to keep her calm and convinces her to keep talking to “her child,” as he tracks her phone location on his screen.

We never see anyone but Asger and a few other cops in the radio room, and we never leave the area.

Müller leaves it up to our imaginations to put features on those Asger is hearing, and he does it beautifully.

With carefully chosen questions, Asger determines that Iben is in the back of a white van, and the driver is her husband. A record check shows he has a criminal record. There is no throbbing music to guide our emotions.

Jasper Spanning’s camera moves from one close up to another, to Asger’s eyes, the headpiece at his ear, his lips, the clock.

Employing the state of art tech equipment, he gets her location and home number. When he calls, a child of about 6 answers. There is another child in another room.

He comforts her. “Don’t be afraid. I am a policeman … other police are coming … let them in when they arrive.”

Throughout the film Asger’s fingers dance across the keys, as he switches from one outside connection to another, the searching patrol cars, the little girl, other call centers and the victim.

In the last 15 minutes of a harrowing ride and the end of his shift, Asger moves into an adjoining inner room. Here he is bathed only in red light.

In those final painful moments, he hears from his fellow cops, as they enter the house, hoping for the best.

Moller does not cheat nor take cheap shots to satisfy. The conclusion will probably surprise you.

The driver of “Guilty” is Jakob Cedergren, a Swedish born Danish film actor with a 40-film resume, but probably brand new to Maine moviegoers. He won’t be for long.

“The Guilty” is here. Put the popcorn down. It’s all about waiting now.

J.P. Devine, of Waterville, is a former stage and film actor.

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