Tuesday, June 18, 2024

What Remains: The Work of Three Skarsgards

It turns out mental hospitals for the criminally insane are especially depressing in Scandinavia. The cold weather and long, dark nights do little to liven up the ambiance. Regardless, that has been child-killer Mads Lake’s home since his late teen years. Evidently, his family’s house was far from nurturing. Perhaps that is why he develops weird, almost co-dependent relationships with his abnormal psychologist and the detective who originally investigated his case in Ran Huang’s What Remains, which releases this Friday in theaters and on demand.

Apparently, there were enough grounds under Finnish law to institutionalize Lake, but not enough to convict him of the heinous crimes everyone believes he committed. He was about to be released after a long confinement, but his tentative experiments with freedom were so disastrous, he hardly minds with his new shrink, Anna Rudebeck, cancels his release.

Instead, she starts delving into his psyche uncovering parental sexual abuse that seems pretty predictable. Meanwhile, crusty old Soren Rank (embodying a brand of existentialism far more fatalistic than Kierkegaard’s), who assisted the senior detective on the case years ago, starts interviewing Lake, under Rudebeck’s supervision, in hopes of uncovering information that might console the victims’ families.

What Remains
is about as bleak as films get. It unfolds almost entirely in drab institutional buildings lit to evoke the drabness of Dogme 95 movement. This is supposed to be a thriller, but somehow the conflict, tension, and suspense were misplaced somewhere inside the grim Brutalist building.

The buck starts and stops with Huang, especially considering the quality of his primary trio. Stellan Skarsgard is perfectly cast as the world-weary Rank and Gustaf Skarsgard manages to be both creepy and pathetic, simultaneously, as Lake. Andrea Riseborough (who dared to be Oscar-nominated, even though the Academy did not pre-approve her candidacy) is also appropriately off-kilter and cerebral, playing the neurotic shrink.

Maddeningly, it all builds to nothing and the few subplots Ruang and co-screenwriter Megan Everett-Skarsgard (wife of Stellan) half-develop wither on the vine. Frankly, it is like the film has an anti-payoff

Ruang certainly has a usually severe aesthetic, but everything else is just as Spartan and minimalist. That makes the two-hour-and-change running time a real endurance challenge. Not recommended,
What Remains opens this Friday (6/21) at the Laemmle Royal.