When you watch the director's introduction on a DVD and he tells you that you may have selected the wrong movie, and apologises for making the film, you know that you're in for a cinematic experience that's out of the ordinary. I'd read about French director Pascal Laugier's film Martyrs...it's been described as 'existential torture porn', and that viewers at screenings ran out, vomited, and fainted. After reading all this, I decided this was a film I had to see. The French have been producing some powerful horror films lately( Inside comes to mind), leaving our own U.S. made remakes and kiddie-horror-lite flicks like Twilight looking like the weak-ass efforts they are...comparing them to films like Martyrs and Inside is like drinking a glass of watery Kool-Aid and chasing it with a glass of 100 proof vodka...one is weak and unsatisfying, the other kicks you in the ass and makes you wonder if you should have even drank it in the first place.
Martyrs opens with a young girl escaping captivity...she has obviously been tortured. She makes a friend at the orphanage she is sent to. 15 years later, the former captive, Lucie (Mylene Jampanoi) finds who she believes to be the ones that tortured her years ago, and takes violent retribution, not only on her torturers, but their family as well. Her friend, Anna( Morjana Alaoui), trying to help her, is brought into this bloody scene of revenge . Anna doubts Lucie's judgement in locating her former tormentors, because said torment has left Lucie mentally tortured long after the physical wounds have healed, and her sanity is , well, questionable, to say the least. After yet another tragic and bloody episode, Anna learns that although Lucie's sanity is shattered, there is a dark and disturbing group working in the shadows, and the acts of torture are far from over...perhaps worse, the torture has a twisted reasoning behind it ...to get closer to God.
Martyrs , as the title suggests, works with the old belief that pain and suffering, and being on the precipice of death because of it, brings one closer to God, and through being near such a person, one can possibly catch a glimpse of the other side, and maybe God himself. Near the film's end we are given the definition of the word martyr, essentially being 'witness'. I think that it's this underlying theme that brings the film a few notches above your average 'capture -people-and-torture-them' flick...the director actually had ideas in his head (dark as they were), and I think it shows.
Ideas notwithstanding, Martyrs is an extremely dark and violent film, and much of it it is hard to watch . I don't necessarily enjoy violence done to women, even if it's imaginary...I'm ingrained with a sort of rough chivalry(I think it's due to repeated viewings of old swashbuckler movies as a kid ...so blame Tyrone Power and Errol Flynn), so it was a bit of an excersize in cinematic intestinal fortitude to view a lot of the scenes in this film. Laugier has said in interviews that he was in a very dark place when he made this film, and it definately shows. Even though it was difficult to get through parts, I would much rather be challenged as a viewer and have a director be able to get his vision across, that to sit numbed and bored by the latest sanitized, mindless, PG-13 concoction Hollywood has to offer. Mind you, I'm not against a no-brainer, fun, 'popcorn' movie, but once in a while it's good to watch something that actually makes you think and feel, even if it's not shiny, happy feelings and thoughts.
The acting in Martyrs was very well done. The leads Jampanoi and Alaoui had very intense and physical performances. The sadness, fear, rage, shock, and horror that the young women go through is strong and even heartbreaking at times. A standout scene for me is one where Lucie expresses her rage , hammer in hand...like most of the film, it is not for the squeamish.
If you're looking for a whimsical, carefree, feel-good movie, this is not the one for you...go find the latest Matthew McConeghey celluloid offering instead. However, if you are up to a dark, challenging film experience, give Martyrs a go...and , as always, feel free to come back here and discuss it with me...or curse my existence for even suggesting such a film, heh. Either way, I'll be waiting. Oh, the version I saw was unrated...I don't know if there's an edited version out there, but don't bother with it if there is...if you're going to see it, there's no sense in half-assing it.
" The only thing I can say is that the actual world is so shitty that horror is the perfect genre to express the most honest and concrete things, things that say a lot about our real lives. This is contrary to what television programs constantly do. Doing a feel-good movie right now, considering the state of the world and the brutality of our system, would disgust me. I'd take it as a self-betryal. More than ever, horror should embody the absolute escape from the lies of official society. The genre has a great opportunity to be really countercultural again after years of having been softened by the cynical postmodernism of our times. That's my feeling, anyhow."
-Pascal Laugier, writer/director of Martyrs, from Rue Morgue magazine