Montage Pictures (a subsidiary label of Eureka) debuted with two unheard titles from the outer reaches of world cinema last year; Argyis Papadimitropoulis’s slow-burning drama, ‘Suntan’, and Attila Till’s wheelchair-bound hitman movie, ‘Kills on Wheels’. Following in a similar vein is Árpád Sopsits’s downbeat thriller, ‘Strangled’. Based on real-life events, ‘Strangled’ sees Sopsits taking inspiration from all the thriller and horror genres had to offer; from the doom-laden portrayal of suburbia in John Carpenter’s ‘Halloween’ to the psycho-sexual violence found in Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘Frenzy’. These cherry-picked sources help Sopsits create a gloomy aura in ‘Strangled’, but does the film break away from the clichés of the police procedural?
Set in Hungary during the mid to late 1960’s, the Supreme Court sentences an innocent man to death, accusing him of slaying a woman in Martfű, a town located a few hundred miles outside of the county seat of Szolnok. The inhabitants mourn the loss, but the actual culprit is still on the prowl; by nightfall, he butchers more women for his twisted desires. A determined private investigator soon discovers that the wrong man is behind bars, and he must catch the real killer before the falsely accused faces the noose at sundown.
‘Strangled’ is typical in its clichéd plotting, there’s the obsessive detective who is battling his inner demons, then there’s the insidious and calculating criminal. So obviously, the audience guesses what scene is coming next. Sopsits attempts to turn the tables though by revealing the killer midway through the film. Without going into spoilers, the director paints him as a strong-willed human being who cares for his wife despite his shocking wave of crimes his depraved lust controls him like a puppet, the only thing that foils his marriage. As a consequence of his sinful actions, he makes an attempt on the life of the one dearest to him, the wife herself. Sopsits’s complexion plants an intriguing thought into the viewer’s head; even if the husband shows affection for his partner, a dark itch can still turn a human being into a monster.
The message isn’t anything new, it dates all the way back to Fritz Lang’s ‘M’. I imagine that Sopsits is aware of this but ‘Strangled’ has one problem and it isn’t that it’s unoriginal; no, the film cannot deliver its message in a thought-provoking way. Let me clarify – I don’t mean it needs to seek something “fresh” or “original” to stand out from the crowd, it’s how the film toys with genre that makes the viewer’s skin crawl. Unfortunately, Sopsits doesn’t offer creative tricks in either the camera or sound department. The cinematography is mostly generic; it has the shot-reverse-shot of the interrogation between the confused suspect and the hard-boiled investigator, the tracking shots of the protagonist informing his team of fresh evidence, the wild chase at the end once the culprit is discovered.
None of this is bad. In fact, these steps serve their purpose – the detective has an impending deadline on the horizon, so he must quickly act before all is lost. Sopsits undermines this point though; he leaves the film in the same gear for most of the 2-hour runtime without ever ratcheting up the tension. Why doesn’t he use one elaborate take to prove the hidden importance of a theme? Or a surrealist dream sequence that takes over the mind of the protagonist? Or odd ticks for the lead to find that is the criminal’s one glaring mistake – all of these suggestions can make ‘Strangled’ more of a three-dimensional film.
Ignoring that the film has little imagination it still works if you can look past that; the script is complete in its character arcs and story development. The setting in a small town, on the other hand, is a slight qualm. Despite being accurate towards historical events, if Sopsits stretched the manhunt to the entire country of Hungary, there could be a greater sense of the difficulty the police had in catching this depraved person. I may have talked down to this film a lot, but by all means, do give it a watch if this thriller turns up on your favourite streaming service. ‘Strangled’ is flawed but it does have a bite to its kills, an underlying sense of chaos, and some passionate storytelling. At least that’s something, the something in question though does not help ‘Strangled’ stand out in the true crime genre.
STRANGLED IS OUT NOW ON MONTAGE PICTURES