Director: Árpád Sopsits
Script: Árpád Sopsits
Cast: Karoly Hajduk, Gabor Jaszberenyi, Zsolt Anger, Peter Barnai, Zsofia Szamosi, Monika Balsni
Running time: 121 minutes
Based on real-life events, Strangled is set in the provincial Hungary of the late fifties and mid-sixties, during the height of socialism, when a series of atrocious sexually-motivated murders rocked the small town of Martfu.
The prologue to the film is set several years, (in 1957), before the rest of the movie is set, and sees local man, Akos Reti, accused of the murder of his one-time girlfriend, whose body is found savaged in a field. The cops beat a confession out of Reti and he is eventually sentenced to be hanged (which was later commuted to be sent to prison a long, long time) and he soon finds life brutally hard there. For example, his first time using a communal shower ends up with him being forcibly sodomised by a gang using a wooden sink plunger!
In 1964, the sexual predator strikes again and it becomes clear, at least to one local cop, that they may have got the wrong man the first time round – although he should know since he was one of the cops who beat a confession out of Reti in the first place!
As additional murders occur a federal investigator, Zoltan, starts getting suspicious of a previous cover-up and teams up with the original dodgy cop, Bóta, to confront the corruption that’s rife within the legal system, but most importantly to find the real killer before they kill again. The two of them face the possibility of losing their careers, and much worse besides, as they open up this peculiarly Hungarian Pandora’s Box.
Strangled is a hard film to enjoy and like, probably because it’s so unrelentingly grim and grey. The pacing is very measured too, which makes it an unwise choice of watch if you’re feeling a bit tired and therefore likely to be easily distracted. However, it does have a number of positive points.
Firstly, the acting is very convincing, and the leads all acquit themselves well, especially the weary, cynical detective, Bóta (Zsolt Anger), who’s shadier than a mafia don wearing shades after dark! And Gábor Jászberényi, who plays Akos Reti, gives a barnstorming performance here, although he has the more 'show-boating' kind of role here to begin with.
Secondly, all the background stops are pulled right out here, whether it’s in regard to the creepy music (by Márk Moldvai) or the lighting, or the production design in general; director Sopsits has created a wonderfully realised period environment for his characters to inhabit. Hungary, circa mid-sixties, looks a cold, grey and grim place to live!
Thirdly, the villain of the piece is a three-dimensional character and we get to know them quite well over the course of the film. This makes for a pleasant change from many similar films where the ‘evil-doer’ tends to be lazily represented as some kind of faceless bogeyman, kept in the shadows until the final reveal.
It’s also a memorably sleazy film, which doesn’t hold back in regard to representing its sexually motivated attacks on young women. I was quite shocked by a few scenes, and I’m not easily shocked, cinematically-speaking, at least. The killings on display are probably more shocking than most because they seem to be so ‘casually’ portrayed, and show little restraint. It’s easy to see why it was awarded an 18 certificate! Plus, I'd guess, the BBFC aren't all that keen on films featuring necrophiles either!
Having said all that, probably the most shocking part of the film was the horrendous miscarriage of justice that occurred here, and that the poor chap who had his liberty denied him for so long by the Hungarian state, ended his life just a few years after his release, as he couldn’t handle what had happened to him whilst he was caught up in the prison system.
Sometimes confusing, sometimes overly languidly paced, but kind of memorable despite these short-comings, Strangled is more of an art-house horror film, and reminded me a little of the Russia-set Citizen X (1995), which, to my mind, is the better film, and an underrated classic to boot.
Eureka! is distributing Strangled on DVD and Blu-ray. Sadly, the only extra on the disc was a trailer (1.46 mins).