“Based on a true story” is perhaps the most disturbing and unsettling sentence you can read when you're about to watch a film regarding a deranged serial killer who terrorises a small town and murders young women. This is how Strangled (A martfüi rém) starts and director Árpád Sopsits doesn't shy away in showing us every gruesome and monstrous act. This film is not for the faint-hearted, so approach with caution, as there are scenes which could leave you distressed. This is a bleak, brutal and haunting film which doesn't skirt around its controversial subject matter.
The film opens in 1957 in the town of Martfü in Hungry, a young man Réti (Gábor Jászberényi) meets his girlfriend from the factory where she works, the two of them walk home and get into a heated argument when the woman declares she won't move in with her lover. The next morning her naked corpse is found, she has been strangled. Réti is called in for questioning and confesses to the crime, for which he is sentenced to life imprisonment. However, five years later another body is found, then another and a further two women are attacked. There's a pattern forming, is it a copycat or do the police have the wrong man behind bars?
Strangled will appeal to fans of David Fincher, it has the same glossy, slick and cool visual appearance of Fincher's work. Especially in how the murder scenes are depicted and the interactions between legal officials. These conversations between the chain-smoking detective Bota (Zsolt Anger) and ambitious young prosecutor Szirmai (Péter Bárnai) who are working on the case are tense and well-acted, as tempers rise and the pressure builds. In fact, all of the cast give strong performances, especially Rita (Zsófia Szamosi), sister of Réti presented as a strong independent woman who appears to succeed in a predominately male workforce, and yet retains a sense of vulnerability.
There were times that the film felt Kubrickian in style especially in the effective use of tracking shots and the way in which the camera is utilised. It is is never static and still, but always on the move, perhaps representing how the real killer is still on the loose and uncontrollable. There are also echoes of great European crime dramas such as The Killing and The Bridge, and perhaps Strangled would have been more effective if it had been a television serial as we don’t really get to know too much background of the characters which seems to be ignored in favour for the long, drawn out murder scenes.
The film presents us with some interesting topics to fuel debates, reflecting the flaws in the Hungarian legal system during the fifties and sixties However, there are still issues that plague modern society, such as toxic masculinity and what drives individuals like Bognar Pal (Károly Hajduk) to commit murder. The disturbing fact is that monsters still exist, people are still encountering them on a daily basis; women still fear walking the streets alone and innocent men are still serving life sentences for crimes that they didn’t commit. The film offers little salvation, however, exposes just how corrupt the government was at the time. This didn't collapse until 1989 - some twenty plus years after the facts of this film - and only following that was the death penalty abolished. The country remained strangled under Communist rule until then.
Strangled is not a film that will entertain you, it’s not a film to use as a form of escapism, its intention is to be shocking and grim to watch. It’s a film which aims to show us the bleak, brutal and ugly truth of the world. Sadly, the extras only include the trailer for the film, it is a real shame there isn't more, as information detailing the original case would have been fascinating. However, the video and audio make up for the lack of extras.