Murderous Trance, originally titled “The Guardian Angel” is a dramatic fictionalization of the outrageous true crime committed by Björn Schouw Nielsen (Josh Lucas) in the ruins of post World War 2 Copenhagen. A series of bank robberies and murders committed by Palle Hardrup (Cyron Melville) are proven to be the result of a hypnotic trance placed on him by Nielsen as they both served long prison sentences for their Nazi alliances. Police Detective Anders Olsen (Pilou Asbæk) is set with the task of solving the crime, convincing his superiors, and not falling prey to the tricks of the mind that seem to affect anyone who has contact with Nielsen.
Josh Lucas gives a remarkable, nuanced performance as Nielsen – dripping with manipulative charm, the very rasp of his voice simultaneously grating and soothing to the soul. His relationship with Anders’ wife, Marie (Sara Soulié) adds a depth to both of their performances, and to the story, that builds this crime thriller into something much more dramatic – and with a feminist flair. Soulié is beautifully, charmingly smart and cunning, carefully balancing Lucas’ over the top wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing with grace. Rade Serbedzija is, as ever, truly perfect in the role of Dr. Dabrowski, a hypnotist brought in to help crack the case. I’ve never seen Serbedzija in a bad role, or give a bad performance, but thankfully Murderous Trance allows him to truly play, and play to his strengths. His Dabrowki is the stable, calm foundation holding Anders and the rest from falling into total madness and chaos. His energy is the glue of this film, binding the maddening cat and mouse game and the bureaucratic merry-go-round of the police force into one solid story with more heart than could be expected.
A heavy theme of Murderous Trance is psychological manipulation – in all forms. How gaslighting and dishonesty can through even the most stalwart off of their game. How one can second guess even the most stable parts of their life when their foundation is shaken. No one is free from the shattering touch of Nielsen and his tactics – and the most impacted, Hardrup, is driven to near madness in the process – with Anders Olsen not far behind. The maddening mind games of Nielsen are dangerous, causing nothing but destruction in their wake – even without hypnosis involved. His power seeps through every pore of his body, and his sinister schemes infect the very air around him. Deeply psychologically impactful, and intensely intelligent – Murderous Trance may just lock itself into your mind the way Nielsen’s suggestions do.
Murderous Trance has a solid foothold in the crime thriller genre, nestling itself in amongst underrated true crime tales such as Reversal of Fortune and performances pieces like Quiz Show. While the crime itself would fly over the heads of most audience members without a serious passion for true crime or the events following World War 2 in Denmark, the groundbreaking performances create a personal connection that keeps you riveted every twist of the story. Stunning period art direction – from costuming to set design – gives Murderous Trance an aesthetic edge that can’t be ignored. For a film with little to no press hubbub, Murderous Trance has every reason to be a classic of the true crime genre.
7 out of 10