Isolation is the key material that paves the shadowy narrative alleyways of Brian Hill’s The Confessions of Thomas Quick (2015). At one stage it’s pinpointed as the underlying motivating factor for a truly remarkable story that saw the emergence of Sweden’s first serial killer in the 1990s.
Through a series of unconventional psychiatric sessions at the Säter hospital, the dark secrets of Sture Bergwall were excavated from his subconscious to reveal the notorious, murderous, alter-ego Thomas Quick. Adopting a glossy aesthetic that treads an appropriate line somewhere between fantasy and reality, this is a creepy and compelling account that never quite follows through on its threats.
Hill blends talking heads and archival footage with cinematic reconstructions to the point at which Bergwall’s recollections of events become one and the same as the central non-fiction story. Bergwall is himself interviewed, chillingly delivering directly to camera – in the cold hues, we have come to expect from detective fiction from this region – stomach-churning accounts of his heinous multitude of crimes. These are easily the film’s trump card, and become all the more important when the conversation is re-framed in the third act. The film cleverly sets up both finally and visually for the revelation of its final section but sadly, when it arrives, it’s somewhat underwhelming in its execution.
It’s not so much a major plot twist – though it’s intended to be one – as the confirmation of the audience already has suspicions about. The film’s focus turns from subject to observer and questions are raised about our collective societal fascination with serial killers (both Hannibal Lecter and Patrick Bateman are namechecked by one interviewee or another) and more concretely the treatment that Bergwall/Quick underwent at Säter.
Are the details of Quick’s re-enactments slightly askew from the reality of the murders because he is struggling to access repressed memories, or because he was never there? It’s an area that receives limited exploration and regrettably suffers from the refusal of any of Bergwall’s doctors to be involved in the conversation. After the icy build-up and Hill’s exacting handling of the disconcerting atmosphere, the balloon bursts with little reward.
Conversations with Bergwall’s estranged brother lack the emotional heft that the content should have, and an opportunity is perhaps missed to re-examine previous re-enactments with the twist of a fresh perspective. There is much good done in toying with cinematic tropes for effect, but ultimately the stylistic flourishes don’t quite implicate the viewer in the same way as Bart Layton intended with The Imposter (2012).
Instead, the story condemns Säter’s treatment of their prized asset but winds down in strange inertia after a riveting opening hour. It might mean that fans of the likes of smash-hit podcast Serial or TV’s The Jinx leave feeling a little undeserved, but The Confessions of Thomas Quick remains a fascinating portrait of a troubled man and true-crime case file.
Ben Nicholson | @BRNicholson