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Frank's Movie Log

My life at the movies.

Thriller: A Cruel Picture

(Thriller - En grym film)
1973 | Sweden | 104 min | More...
A still from Thriller: A Cruel Picture (1973)
B-: 3.5 stars (out of 5)
on Fri Jun 23, 2023

A rape-revenge picture notorious for its inclusion of hardcore inserts. Christina Lindberg plays Madeleine, a mute young woman forced into prostitution. Determined to reclaim her agency, she trains in self-defense, marksmanship, and tactical driving. After a final tragedy pushes her over the edge, she employs her new skills to enact bloody vengeance.

The setup plays like a horror film. Madeline lives and works on a small farm with her parents. After her father insists she take a day off, Madeline heads into town, but misses the bus. She accepts a ride from a smooth talking young man in a flashy car named Tony who drives her into town and buys her lunch. Afterwards, at his place, Tony spikes Madeline’s drink which knocks her unconscious. Over the next few days, Tony shoots her up with heroin, solidifying an addiction he leverages to force her into prostitution.

The gritty atmosphere evokes The Last House on the Left, but writer-director Bo Arne Vibenius shows a defter touch. When Madeline attempts an escape, fleeing Tony’s apartment and running down the neighborhood streets, Vibenius proffers a POV shot from inside Tony’s car. We stare down the hood as Tony pursues her while the sound of Madeline’s panting fills the soundtrack. A subtle juxtaposition that hammers home the futility of her attempt.

Later, after Madeline claws her first would-be client’s face, Tony takes a scalpel to her eye. Move over Lucio Fulci, there’s a new ocular violence king in town.

From here, the film settles into a languid pace. Wearing a pink eye patch, Madeline endures clients, takes her drugs, and trains for her escape. We feel the oppressive passage of time.

At one point, Tony introduces a new client, a woman. She appears tender to Madeleine at first, stroking her arm and face. Then she mounts Madeleine and strikes her hard across the face as the scene cuts away. A cruel picture indeed.

More time passes. More clients, more drugs, and more training. This procedural approach enhances the film’s sense of grounded realism.

Said realism goes out the door once Madeline snaps and begins her killing spree. Logic and time stop as Vibenius amps up the formal flourishes. Madeline, now sporting a fur-lined black duster and matching black eye patch, draws down on her marks with her sawed-off shotgun as the film shifts to slow-motion. We see her pull the trigger, the muzzle flash, then cut to her victim whose gut or chest sprays blood followed by the sound of the blast.

This slow motion extends to hand-to-hand combat. Madeline pummels a pair of police officers, delivering slow-motion kicks to their faces which snap backwards spraying a ropy arc of blood.

Vibenius goes full ridiculous now, as Madeline steals the cops’ car and sets out in pursuit of Tony. Sirens blaring, she barrels down the road. When cars refuse to yield, she forces them onto the shoulder where they explode in balls of fire.

Everything builds to an inevitable climax. Madeline’s choice of revenge proves unique, though not as over-the-top as one might expect, given the film’s escalating delirium.

Throughout, Lindberg convinces in her silent performance. Conveying reams of emotion through her face and single visible eye, we feel her rage at her violators, her helplessness and rage at being helpless. The inner strength she conveys elevates her from sympathetic to inspiring and her final stoic incarnation proves iconic.

But now we must speak of the notorious hard-core inserts. These close up penetration shots surface during Madeleine’s forced prostitution scenes. They repulse, driving home Madeline’s violation. To that end, they serve a narrative purpose. But they also shock, jarring us out of the scene and allowing us a brief respite from the horror.

I suspect the film would work without them. They don’t mesh with the film’s formal flourishes, leaving me wishing Vibenius had proffered something more stylish.

That said, Thriller marks a high point for the rape-revenge genre. The methodical execution, combined with Vibenius’ stylish presentation, makes for a haunting experience. Recommended, provided you can get past the hardcore shots.

Viewing History

    Watched on
    Fri Jun 23, 2023 via 4k UHD Blu-ray (Vinegar Syndrome, 2022)

    Original “uncut festival version.”