The story of the Monster of Martfu is probably not one many of us are aware of in this part of the world, but the twisted nature of his crimes certainly are. Back in 1960s Hungary a particularly sick individual terrorised the town of Martfu, killing a number of women before peforming sexual acts on their dead bodies. It sparked a desperate manhunt to find the killer as the depraved murders continued to occur. Director Árpád Sopsits’ police procedural looks back at these killings and examines the tragedies in surprisingly uncomfortable detail.
To give you a flavour, within the first 30 minutes four women are attacked, two of whom are killed, stripped and sexually assaulted. This rinse-and-repeat approach vacuums out any intrigue associated with the case, preferring to fixate on the lifeless women being stripped and straddled by their assailant. Seven years before this flurry of killings Reti Akos (Gábor Jászberényi) is sentenced to 25 years for the murder and rape of a young girl, a crime both he and his family know he didn't commit. That is of little consequence to the police, who at the time were only interested in finding a suspect and securing a conviction by any means necessary.
Locked up behind bars Reti clearly cannot be responsible for the new crimes, and the hunt for the murderer intensifies under the guidance of lead prosecutor Szirmai (Péter Bárnai). His superiors have no interest in linking these identical crimes to Reti’s case, let alone allowing him to appeal for release. We are taken inside the family life and murky exploits of the killer, Bognár (Károly Hajduk), but these fail to reveal anything about his perversions or motivations, and with such a dull approach taken to the investigation you wonder how the police were ever able to track down Bognár.
Rather than show some actual detective work Sopsits treats us to moments of bizarre inspiration to keep the plot moving along. A scene where Szirmai is practising his underwater diving leads to a sudden flash of inspiration after he is surrounded by the ghosts of the dead women. Amazed by his sudden epiphany he hurries back to the surface convinced that one man is responsible for all the murders, sounding closer to Clouseau than Holmes. The rest of the police force are just as hopeless and the ongoing power struggle with his bosses offers little insight.
Any link made to the social climate of the time is tenuous at best but perhaps Strangled plays better to an audience who do not need a road map explanation. One thing that has to be appreciated is how handsomely the film is shot by cinematographer Gábor Szabó. His use of light is exceptional, and in a strange way it might also prove to be the reason why the gritty murders fail to look as vicious as the acts themselves. Unfortunately, this is countered by poor editing choices and mundane action, and with two hours to get through you'll have plenty of time to embellish your own murderous thoughts towards the film.