Arpad Sopsits’ Strangled sets itself up as something of a whodunnit; for there’s a serial killer on the loose in this small Hungarian town, and the police are completely at a loss as to who the perpetrator may be. Except the viewer is privy to such information, as we’re informed relatively early into proceedings who the savage murderer is – and while this could seem detrimental, in this instance it enriches the narrative, as the main reveal here is not his identity, but whether or not he’s a copycat killer, imitating a similar series of crimes from years earlier. Or were they his doing too – and is the wrong man imprisoned for his nefarious acts?
Set, harrowingly, on a real life set of events, Reti Akos (Gabor Jaszberenyi) is the man who was found guilty of murder and necrophilia, sentenced to life imprisonment despite continuously protesting his innocence. Years later a similar series of brutal attacks are taking place in the town of Martfu – so similar to those allegedly committed by the aforementioned prisoner, that the police start to fear they have got the wrong man all along. So the hunt for the new criminal takes place, but Bognar Pal (Karoly Hajduk) is always one step ahead of the local law enforcement, and as each days goes past without him behind bars, more women fear for their safety, as he continues to rape and murder innocent civilians, in the most disturbing way imaginable.
The film opens with Reti Akos’ court-case, and from this moment onwards the film makes for an engrossing thriller. Sopsits must be commended also for balancing such a myriad of characters, though conversely the film is lacking focus. We don’t have a true protagonist, and perhaps we need to adopt the perspective of a detective vying to crack this puzzle, or Reti’s sister, striving to prove her sibling’s innocent – as maybe tackling this set of events through one set of eyes would have been beneficial, as this is a complex tale, though one that has been enriched by the context of socialist Hungary, so important to the narrative and utilised effectively.
The film is not for the faint hearted either, for Sopsits does not hold back in his, perhaps gratuitous depiction of rape and murder. They are incredibly difficult to sit through in parts, and the camera isn’t afraid to linger afterwards on the bruised, often drowned corpses. There is a criticism in how little we know of any of the victims, without any palpable back story to any of them, almost stripping them of personality, though in some ways, given the graphic nature of the violent sequences, to free us of that emotional attachment makes them slightly easier to sit through – though only just.
But then the profundity comes in the fact that these were real victims, as this entire tale is based on real events, and it’s a quite remarkable story – ripe for a cinematic imagining, and the director is evidently aware of this fact, for he’s so cinematic in his approach. Affectionately adhering to the tropes of the thriller genre, what transpires is a captivating production that while incredibly upsetting, makes for a rewarding experience.