Filmed in two weeks on a micro budget, Katalin Varga is proof of just how good independent filmmaking can be in the hands of a committed and intelligent filmmaker, in this case, first time director, Peter Strickland.
While a tale of revenge set in Transylvania might sound like the perfect recipe for a hackneyed cinematic disaster, Strickland manages to sidestep all the potential pitfalls with consummate ease. The film’s slowly unfolding narrative follows the titular heroine, Varga, as a violent secret from her past leads her on a dangerous odyssey. Retribution and justice are the themes that propel this journey along, to which the director assumes a thoroughly non-didactic approach.
Within a setting that seems both ambiguous and transcendent (it is set in the present, though it is someway through the film before this becomes apparent) Strickland presents multiple points of view that test easily formed assumptions about the nature of good and evil and, uniquely, allow the viewer to sympathise with all the characters regardless of their significant flaws.
A blistering central performance from Hilda Péter as the eponymous heroine and an extraordinary use of sound design also contribute to this utterly breathtaking film. Strickland is certainly a rare and promising talent and it will be exciting to see what he does next.