The Last Client (Klienten) had its UK première at FrightFest 2022
Written by Anders Rønnow Klarlund and Jacob Weinrich (who together pen crime novels under the collective pseudonym A.J. Kazinski), The Last Client (Klienten) is a psychological thriller, unfolding mostly within the confines of a consulting room, as a therapist finds her connections to her patient running deeper than she might like, in a Freudian session where projection, transference and rôle reversal come to dominate everything.
A serial killer who operates in Denmark, Norway and Sweden has killed three pregnant women after carving out their foetuses, and has in one case scrawled a message in blood on the wall: “I fall into the infinite abyss of loneliness with no one to catch me”. Hearing this detail in the news, psychologist Susanne Hartmann (Signe Egholm Olsen) has recognised those distinctive words as her own, from a diary entry in 2018 when she was visiting Trondheim for a conference. It is an odd coincidence that suggests an obscure relationship of this happy mother and wife to a killer of mothers and wives. While Susan has written books on ‘therapeutic methods for treating the neglected child’, her lucrative day-to-day work mostly involves dealing with the ‘first-world problems’ of business executives, so she is puzzled when a stranger visits her office who, unlike her normally affluent clientèle, has had to save up for three months just to be able to afford an hour of her time. Intense young Mark Zidenius (Anton Hjejle), who has read Susanne’s book cover to cover, immediately tells her of his suicidal thoughts, adding, “I want to disappear. Completely. As If I were never here.” Mark will then, while describing his unhappy, loveless childhood, casually refer to how “life feels like an eternal fall into the abyss of infinite loneliness with no one to catch you” – and Susanne will realise that the person before her is a disturbed, dangerous murderer.
Klarlund’s The Last Client (Klienten) tracks this session between Susanne and Mark, teasing out the reversible relationship between psychologist and subject. Viewers may well congratulate themselves for identifying Mark as the serial killer many minutes before Susanne does, and may well also feel confident that they know why he has decided to unburden himself on this particular older woman long before such suspicions are formally confirmed by a reveal at the film’s midway point. Yet in an intricately crafted script where every word counts, Mark is carefully laying out who he is, how he operates, and why, after committing a ‘rookie error’ in his first double-murder at age 10, he has not once been caught since – and here he is outsmarting not just the police, but Susanne and the viewer too. For this twisty narrative, two-handed but deftly dominated by Mark in his pursuit of a ‘talking cure’, flatters us with our perceptiveness as to where it is headed, before veering off in an utterly – and harrowingly – surprising direction. “I’ve been waiting and waiting for this,” Mark will tell Susanne early on – and as he quickly, ineluctably recruits her, over the course of his allotted hour, to the perfect crime and the perfect revenge, a plot whose seeds were planted long, long ago finally comes to its horrible yet impeccably balanced fruition.
Along the way, Klarlund and Weinrich place us in ‘therapeutic alliance’ with this cruel, calculating patient, finding sympathy for the devil (not least because all the flashbacks are shown via POV shots which impose identification on us, no matter what we see), and posing difficult questions about choice, consequence (both seen and unforeseen) and responsibility. For much as Susanne will spend a good deal of the duration in zip ties or other restraints, The Last Client is concerned with the ethical chains that bind us all together in uneasy complicity – and, in its final image, confrontingly casts the viewer as both legal and moral judge of impossible, contradictory and not altogether reliable evidence. It is a crime film that is also about the bigger context of crime and criminality – and its various conundrums and cruces will worm their way into your psyche.
strap: Anders Rønnow Klarlund’s two-handed psychothriller takes an Oedipal approach to questions of choice, consequence and responsibility
© Anton Bitel