Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Beast's Movie Cave- Martyrs

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'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 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 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 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 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


Heff said...

I must admit, this post has me curious.

Charles Gramlich said...

Sounds intriguing, although it's gonna have to have some redeeming plot for me to stay with it. I've seen a couple of torture movies. Didn't like Hostel at all, but I liked the Japanese one, was it Violin? the woman who cuts off guy's body parts with piano wire! There was something strong there.

Scott said...


It's definately a different flick.


I thought that there was enough going on story-wise to put it above most torture flicks. The Japanese film with a gal using cutting wire that I saw was titled Audition...that was another god one.

Shauna Roberts said...

This sounds way too violent for me, and that's too bad because the ideas sound intriguing.

I disagree with you on the dishonesty of doing feel-good entertainment when the world is so bleak. Despite all the bad in the world (I'm not disputing you there), there's still plenty of good, and there could be even more good if people have the hope and faith to make things better. It's hard to nurture that hope and faith if one is overwhelmed by the dark. Romance novels help one believe true love can be found, mystery novels help one believe justice can prevail, and many fantasy novels help one believe that an individual can make a difference (save the village from dragons, defeat the evil king, etc.).

Scott said...


Believe it or not, not everything I watch has a downbeat ending. I do like a happy ending in some films, but when it comes to horror, for whatever reason, I tend to like the films with the darker endings, like most of the horror and sci-fi films of the 70s. I do, however, support a director's vision, even if all he wants to make is dark, depressing films, because there's a place for them, and if that's his vision, it shouldn't be watered down by non-creative types. I love escapism in all its forms, and even dark horror is escapism of a sort. Most of my literary heroes, such as Kull and Conan, overcame whatever obstacles stood in their way, not only by brawn, but by self-belief and the occasional battle-axe. :) I do watch comedies, and I absolutely love the classic swashbuckler films of the 30s and 40s...brave heroes, battles, can't get much more escapist than that.

I think that horror is one genre that shouldn't hold back, even if there's comedy mixed in( such as in Dead Alive, or Blood Diner) should be extreme, scary, gross, and at best, thought provoking. Having said all that, I do understand that it's not everyone's cup of tea.

Shauna Roberts said...

Scott, I agree people shouldn't water down their vision, and I also agree that horror can be a form of escapism, too. There's a relief in seeing people with a worse life than one's own, for one thing. And many horror movies (at least the ones my husband choses, anyway) have a revenge theme, so there's satisfaction in the bad guy getting it in the end. Do either of those ideas resonate with why you like horror?

Scott said...


I don't know that I enjoy seeing someone whose life is worse than mine, but the revenge theme is one that interests's always good to see wrongdoers get theirs. Even though I typically like my horror as dark as possible, one of my favorites, the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, has the girl not only escape at the end, but Leatherface drops the saw on his own leg and is seen swinging his weapon in an insane dance of fury at his captive's escape. The end of Hostel also sees a 'bad guy' get his from a protagonist.

The reason(s) I like horror is something I'm trying to explore in the book I'm writing right now. I've been watching horror films since I was about 3 years old. I think I like them bacause they give me a safe way to vent the darker side of myself, much like violent action films and video games do. In real life, I never want an unhappy ending for anyone, and I wish the 'bad guys' always met their punishments...but in films, I guess I like my horror to be as dark as possible. I suppose it's similar to why some women like to see sad films that make them cry...I don't see why anyone would want to do that, but maybe they're venting out emotions in their own way by doing so. Whatever works , I guess!

Michelle's Spell said...

Hey Scott,

Sounds like a hell of a movie! You always find cool stuff. I'm with you on the thought that I would rather be challenged than not. Nothing is worse than what I call an airplane movie -- unless you are on an airplane. Why we make such weak movies, I'll never know. Great review!

Scott said...


Thanks! I'm always on the look-out for the unusual, be it films or music or won't usually find treasure in the open, you have to search for it.

Like I said above, I don't mind a Hollywood, no-brainer, popcorn flick once in a while, but I'd rather see something that's not run-of-the-mill, be it a crazed gore-soaked adventure like Tokyo gore Police, or a challenging film like Martyrs.

monsterscholar said...

I agree with you that it's good to watch a movie that makes us uncomfortable and makes us think instead of lulling us into a coma. It reminds me of what Carol Clover, author of Men, Women, and Chain Saws said about movies in general. Movies aren't supposed to be a tranquil escape, but a threshold experience meant to bring you face to face with the abyss.

Great review, I will definitely have to check this out to see what foreign torture porn is like.

Anonymous said...

That's it, it's in my Netflix queue


Scott said...


Yes, exactly. Thanks for stopping by, come back anytime!


Check it out...and thanks for stoping by, too!

Lana Gramlich said...

Thanks for the heads up, but I think I'll pass. As a victim of childhood torture myself, I don't ever want to go there again.

Scott said...


I can't blame you at all for not partaking of this film.