When is a serial killer not a serial killer? When he’s a disturbed, attention-seeking asylum patient, owning up to crimes he didn’t commit so that his doctors will give him better drugs and more of their time. For a few years in the 1990s, Thomas Quick – real name Sture Bergwall – was Sweden’s most prolific murderer, convicted of eight horrific cannibal killings and suspected of many more. Until it turned out that he was in fact just a committed fantasist, guilty of a number of fairly unpleasant crimes including molestation and armed robbery, but not murder.
It’s a fascinating story, and when this British-made, BFI-funded documentary confines itself to laying out the details of what happened, it’s very watchable. But like its anti-hero, ‘The Confessions of Thomas Quick’ isn’t satisfied with mere facts. Instead, it aims for a populist, thriller-like tone reminiscent of ‘The Imposter’, with crisp photography, direct (and seemingly well-rehearsed) talking-head interviews, unnecessary re-enactments and a moody horror-movie score.
The leeway director Brian Hill offers his central subject, Quick – who speaks frankly and openly – is odd, given his history of falsification. Similarly, an attempt to lay the blame for Quick’s transgressions at the feet of an overly liberal Scandinavian psychiatric establishment feels misjudged, particularly when the doctors in question all refused to appear in the film. The result is muddled and overbearing, trying so hard to be both arty and exciting that it just comes across as self-conscious and a little bit exploitative.