ON DVD & BLU-RAY
Strangled (2016) dir: Árpád Sopsits Blu Ray & DVD (Eureka!)
A serial killer in 1960s Hungary
Strangled is based on a real-life hunt for a serial murderer and necrophiliac who ravaged the provincial town of Martfű during Hungary’s Communist era. It begins in 1957 when a young woman is murdered while walking home one night from the shoe factory which forms the town’s main industry. The main suspect is Réti Ákos (Gábor Jászberényi) who was courting her at the time and was seen walking home with her. He readily confesses to the murder despite some contradictions in his story and the eyewitness testimonies. As a result, he is sent to prison for 25 years.
However, during the 1960s a number of other young women are killed and acts of necrophilia committed on their bodies immediately afterwards. Bóta (Zsolt Anger), the town detective who brought in the original suspect those seven years ago, is on the case once again. When one of his victims, Szigeti Nóra (Mónika Balsai), narrowly survives the attack - albeit with a case of severe concussion - he attempts to use her as a possible lead. However, since the attack took place in darkness the information she is able to give is scant beyond that she found his breathing patterns to be strangely familiar. Bóta’s rather heavy-handed interrogation tactics don’t seem to be yielding much in the way of results.
However, a younger detective named Szirmai (Péter Bárnai) soon deduces that these new murders were most likely committed by the same person who also carried out the one in 1957 which Réti confessed to. Meanwhile, Réti is being visited in prison by his sister Rita (Zsófia Szamosi) who persuades him to launch an appeal. Unfortunately, both Szirmai and Réti’s endeavours are being shunned by the authorities, who have vested interests in keeping a lid on the notion that they (as representatives of the Communist state) could have got the wrong man in the first place.
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A grim account of real-life murder and the Communist regime
This Hungarian production is somewhat reminiscent of both Citizen X (1995) - Chris Gerolmo’s account of real-life serial killer Andrei Chikatilo in the Soviet Union - and Marshland (2014) - Alberto Rodríguez’s thriller about two detectives investigating a series of murders in Spain’s Andalucia region in the aftermath of the Franco era. It amalgamates a look at a political climate that now seems entirely alien from a modern European ideal with some gruesome police procedural stuff.
In many ways, the former aspect is more interesting than the latter is here. Communist-era Hungary is rendered with a hauntingly plausible level of detail: functional and somewhat dirty browns and greys are the predominant colour palette. The characters’ dress sense seems stuck (from a Western European perspective) in the 1940s. Cars and other vehicles have that chunky look that was characteristic of the era in this part of the world. Extramarital sex appears to be the main pastime amongst men and women in this grim and dreary small industrial town. Authority figures behave with a brutal heavy-handedness; Bóta is seen slapping Szigeti in a desperate bid to get her to regain consciousness just as she is beginning to recover from being raped and nearly murdered. However, that’s nothing compared with the treatment we see being meted out to the (clearly innocent) Réti through the course of the film.
Pedestrian and nasty thriller aspects
As a thriller it’s somewhat pedestrian but notable for its phenomenal levels of nastiness. What initially appears to be a whodunnit is soon put paid to when the culprit is revealed part way through the runtime. His exploits amount to a catalogue of repetitive yet effectively disturbing murder sequences. It’s a cinematic challenge to depict acts of murder and necrophilia against women (in one case, underage) in a way that feels uncompromising without putting the film in danger of being banned by censors. If there’s one thing I can say about Strangled it’s that it manages this juggling act exceptionally well. It is perfectly clear what this sick individual is up to but we don’t actually see that much; bar a few fleeting flashes of gore, the acts are either implied or barely glimpsed in the half-darkness.
The main negative point here is that there are a few scenes here which don’t really go anywhere. A brief subplot were Bóta attempts to court Rita doesn’t really add anything to the story. There are also vague implications of a cover-up by the authorities but they remain somewhat murky and fragmented. Admittedly, that’s probably a deliberate decision on the part of the filmmakers as the machinations of the inner state would hardly have been the most transparent during this period of Hungarian history. Nonetheless, such an approach is hardly satisfying from a narrative perspective.
Strangled is a well acted and atmospheric period chiller with a few flaws that knock it down slightly. It’s most notable as a downbeat and rather grim viewing experience; it’s a film that seems to positively seep unpleasantness through the viewer’s pores as its runtime progresses.
Runtime: 120 mins
Dir: Árpád Sopsits
Starring: Károly Hajduk, Gábor Jászberényi, Zsolt Anger, Péter Bárnai, Zsolt Trill, Zsófia Szamosi, Mónika Balsai
Blu Ray Audio-Visual
The image is a little soft and downright splotchy during the underwater scenes. However, those distinctive Communist-era autumnal colours are impressively vivid.
Strangled isn’t a film which could be described with many adjectives - but enjoyable isn’t one of them. Fascinatingly dark maybe, stomach-churningly unpleasant certainly, a richly vivid historical account most definitely. It’s not a film for everyone and probably won’t satisfy straight thriller or horror fans. It’s a film for those who can take on the infinitely more unpleasant horrors of real life.