Based on real-life events, this psycho-thriller is set in the provincial Hungary of the 1960s, when a series of atrocious murders shock the small town of Martfü. A psychotic killer is on ...
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Based on real-life events, this psycho-thriller is set in the provincial Hungary of the 1960s, when a series of atrocious murders shock the small town of Martfü. A psychotic killer is on the prowl, who continues to slaughter young women while an innocent man is wrongly accused and sentenced for crimes he could never have committed. A determined detective arrives on the scene and soon becomes obsessed with the case while under pressure from the prosecutor to see a man hang. Stuck in the suffocating social, political and psychological world of socialist Hungary, we soon find ourselves entangled in a web of intricate conspiracy and disturbing drama.
Police hunt a predator in 50s Hungary, while another man rots in prison for the crimes
In a nation still reeling in the aftermath of a crushed uprising against their Soviet overlords, a woman is murdered and raped after leaving her job at the local shoe factory. A lover is rounded up, he admits to the crime and is sentenced to life, and the townsfolk continue their existence. Yet seven years later Martfű is beset by similar murders, and the race is on for the police to unravel the mystery.
Strangled is an engrossing if challenging work, echoing some of the great crime thrillers while maintaining a local flavour. The setting itself captures the drabness so associated with the Eastern bloc of the Cold War, shots of workers streaming out of the shoe factory reminiscent of Metropolis. There is also no attempt to shy away from the heinous crimes, and neither does director Árpád Sopsits let the period setting overpower the film narrative.
The graphic nature of Strangled's depiction of murder and necrophilia at first come across as close to mere sordid titillation. As the film progresses, it becomes clear how important it is to depict these scenes within the plot, giving an idea of what these women and the community as a whole had to suffer.
The drunk local cop, the precocious outside detective, the commander who wants the whole thing shut down quickly with no loose ends. We've seen all these character templates before, but that's not to say they're all adequately delivered here. It's also clear that in this Iron Curtain environment no-one is to be trusted, and no-one is going to give you a medal for doing the right thing.
Though while there is a lot of talk of how the city of Martfű is paralyzed with fear, rarely does the audience feel it outside of the core characters focused on. A greater focus on the community and a little less on the police machinations could have aided the overall film.
There is also a tacit belief in the audience's previous awareness of the 1956 Hungarian Uprising, which affects the investigation into the initial murder. It is refreshing to see an international film which is not afraid to tell a story without pandering to outside audiences, though an unawareness of this event could leave viewers somewhat confused at points.
The production is well made without being flashy, dramatic set-pieces fitting in well with the overall drive of the police to catch the killer. A particular highlight is Inspector Zoltán (Péter Bárnai), racing a train to see if the details of a case match up. There are also fleeting moments of beauty in this film, shining out amongst the monotony of the town and the horror of the crimes.
Though a grim sense of inevitability pervades some of the events in Strangled, there is plenty of twists and turns right up to the film's final moments. Strands of the films successfully interweave, both the supposed killer in prison (played well by Gábor Jászberényi), and the killer on the loose. Only a couple of scenes feel unnecessary in this taut and engrossing plot, its basis on true events adding to its verisimilitude.
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