Review: What Remains


Wow! What an excavation of the human psyche, from three different, solitary sufferers’ points of view.

In “What Remains,” three broken people interact while trying to solve a mystery. Sture Bergwall (Gustaf Skarsgard – “Oppenheimer”) has been an inmate in a psychiatric hospital for years. He’s an admitted child molester and almost catatonic in his relations with those around him. Most recently, he’s been in the care of therapist Anna Rudebeck (Andrea Riseborough). In their sessions, he comes to believe that he was abused by his father, and that the abuse poisoned his life – like a virus infecting him.

Anna has her own problems. She is an austere personality, without a partner or apparent family. However, she does want a family, and has arranged for IVF, even though her own doctor is opposed to it for medical reasons. Anna does have sex, the pickup kind, but it is humiliating.

Sture is nearing the time for his release, but is brutally robbed of his attempt to be self sufficient, and rebuffed by his brother and unfeeling sister-in-law. Back at the hospital, he decides to change his name to Mads Lake – a name described as “meaning nothing” – as an emblem of a clean start. But then, after his traumatic setback, he begins to confess to child murders.

This brings in our third wounded personality, the detective Soren Rank (Stellan Skarsgard). Soren, an alcoholic, is casually belittled by his politically sensitive superiors, and is divorced with a daughter he is denied access to by his ex-wife. This broken man is assigned to unravel the mystery that is Mads – perhaps the first Swedish serial killer.

Director Ran Huang, already renowned in Europe as an artist, and in his first full length film as directorial/writer (along with Megan Everett-Skarsgard), has given us a version of the 1990s real-life story of Sture Bergwall.

Ran Huang grew up in China, but developed his skills and artistic following in Europe. It shows. This film exhibits many of the traits of that craft: unusual, even obscure camera placement – as if we are viewing real people at work just around the corner or across a distance; long pauses amid stark dialogue; changing camera focus to reveal different details, etc. “What Remains” was filmed in color, but many scenes give the impression of soft black and white, removing us from the reality of our fast-paced vibrant contemporary era.

The story is told at a glacial pace. This sounds horrible at first, and some commentators have concentrated on this fact. However, it is misunderstood. The long pauses in the evolution of the story give our minds time to analyze and assemble the elements being presented to us. The patient observer is well rewarded.

1. Ran Huang claims that the idea for the film came to him as he read a story about Sture Bergwell in a magazine in his hotel in 2014.
2. Megan Everett-Skarsgard is the wife of Stellan Skarsgard, and stepmother of Gustaf Skarsgard.

Runtime: Two hours, 11 minutes
Availability: In theaters and VOD starting June 21, 2024

. . .

Join us on Facebook at!

Comments are closed.