Reviews

Martyrs

5

Art meets gorno…

A lot of big claims have been made for Pascal Laugier’s psychological and physiological horror film. The best this, the most that.

Well let’s slice through the hype and make it clear that French fear flick Martyrs isn’t the anything. It is, however, one of theone of the most extreme pictures ever made, one of the finest horror movies of the last decade.

It’s also one of the hardest films to review. Why? Because what begins as an archetypal genre piece soon twists and snaps in unexpected directions, its dizzying plunges down midnight-black rabbit holes keeping viewers disorientated and vulnerable.

So, for now, know only this: a blood-splattered child is found fleeing an industrial complex in 1971. Fifteen years later, she and a friend (Mylène Jampanoi and Morjana Alaoui, both excellent) seek revenge. Some very bad shit happens.

A torture-porn movie for Guardian readers, Martyrs is, according to Laugier, the “anti-Hostel”, its savagery devoid of glee and its scalpel scraping at mind and soul as much as bruised, flailed body. In one incredible, indelible shot, the camera even burrows deep into a dilated iris for a 2001-stylee lightshow – the ecstasy in the agony.

Of course, suggesting that any gain can emerge from such pain is contentious at best, irresponsible at worst, and whether Laugier fully explains or explores his titular theme is debatable. But Martyrs is a technically brilliant, emotionally resonant, uncommonly cerebral horror film that dares to bend every rule, blend every mood.

The first half comprises a reeling camera, disjointed cutting and a half-glimpsed phantom that owes as much to Raphael and Bacon as the ghouls of J-horror. The second half is mechanical and methodical, evoking Michael Haneke’s cruel austerity yet infused with genuine tenderness. Extraordinary.

Jamie Graham

 

Verdict:

Arthouse? Grindhouse? The Passion Of Joan Of Arc: Unrated Edition? Defying all boundaries, Martyrs relentlessly dishes the visceral pain and emerges as a work of not just ceaseless terror but also gravity and beauty.

Film Details

User Reviews

    • scabo33

      Mar 20th 2009, 16:41

      5

      WOW! and Jamie Graham is a hard man to please!

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    • matthardwick

      Mar 30th 2009, 14:29

      5

      Finally someone in the press that understands the film. This film is an amazing watch and certainly worth a lot of the praise that it's been given.

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    • addiscool

      Apr 9th 2009, 0:50

      4

      Great film, good to see that Total Film haven't seen it as another Saw come Hostel cash-in.

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    • duncan1964

      May 15th 2009, 14:17

      4

      A film that will divide opinion more than any film in recent memory. A French horror that is evenly split into 2 halves. The first a more conventional stalk and slash horror with a shotgun weilding girl slaughtering a family. Then it abrubtly switches to become a horrific torture film that refuses to let us enjoy the horror. Unlike Hostel and other such American horrors it refuses to make the horror easy to watch. Is the final outcome justification for the degrading scenes we are forced to endure. hard to say, but this a director to watch. For (very) strong stomaches only!!

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    • cockney01

      Jun 23rd 2009, 10:09

      4

      There is a tagline in the trailers for the original 'The Texas Chainsaw Massacre' that says 'This movie is relentless in it's attempt to drive you out of your mind', and although that movie did scare audiences, it was a good scare; a throw-your-popcorn-in-the-air scare, with a tongue placed firmly in cheek with regards to the terrors it presented. Instead, that tagline should be applied to 'Martyrs', as it's fairly doubtful as to whether there has been a movie that makes it's audience feel so uneasy yet, at the same time, is so very compelling. 'Martyrs' begins with a news flashback to 1971, where a young girl called Lucie has escaped from captivity and notified police. Lucie has been deprived of proper food and severely beaten, but there are no signs of any sexual traumas, and she is in such an emotional state that she is unable to tell the authorities about who was holding her or what really happened. Lucie is put into a care home where she meets and befriends a young girl called Anna, who also gets quizzed by the authorities as to whether Lucie has revealed anything. What Anna doesn't tell them, because Lucie has made her promise not to, is that Lucie gets visited by a snarling, female figure who attacks and mutilates her. Fast forward fifteen years, and the Belfond family are having the usual early morning family squabbles. Brother and sister are fighting while dad is making breakfast, and mum is in the garden fixing the water supply. After answering a knock at the door, dad is killed by a shotgun-wielding Lucie, who then proceeds to blast away at the rest of the family, only stalling at the son to ask if he knows what his parents have done. Having murdered the whole family, who Lucie believes were the ones who tortured her, Lucie then sees the creature who has been haunting her since childhood. Although trying to placate the creature by murdering the family, the creature attacks Lucie with her own cut-throat razor, in one of the most violent and unsettling scenes in the movie. Lucie is then joined by Anna, who begins to clear up the mess and dispose of the bodies in the garden, discovering along the way that the mother isn't quite dead. Anna tries to sneak the mother out of the house, but is discovered by Lucie who proceeds to smash the mother's skull with a hammer. The creature appears again and Lucie shows the creature that the mother is dead. It is now that we learn the creature is in fact a woman who was being tortured in the same building as Lucie, and that Lucie could have helped the woman escape when she managed to break free, but didn't. The creature starts to cut Lucie's arms, but a revealing shot from Anna's perspective shows that Lucie is in fact cutting herself and that the creature is imaginary. Lucie believes that murdering the torturers would somehow stop the creature from appearing, but unfortunately Lucie still sees it and, seemingly unable to take any more, kills herself. But it doesn't end there, as Anna is about to find out. Discovering a secret lair of chambers under the house, she comes across another female victim, who is blindfolded with a metal visor that has been riveted into her head. Anna takes the woman upstairs and tries to clean her up and remove the visor, but, due to the traumatic events that have obviously happened to her, the woman freaks out and tries to cut off her own arm, after which she is shot in the head by a team of soldier-type people who have entered the house. Immediately seizing Anna, they drag her down to the underground chamber where she is visited by a mysterious middle-aged woman who informs Anna that Lucie and the other victim were in the process of being made martyrs - people who, when tortured to the point where the body gives up resisting, achieve a level of transcendence and are able to see into the afterlife. As women make better martyrs, it is they who are experimented on. Of course, Anna is then the next person subjected to the vile tortures that the new occupants of the house inflict. To find out what happens, you'll have to watch the movie, but needless to say if what has happened so far hasn't put you off your dinner, then the final thirty minutes of 'Martyrs' will certainly will. And if the final thirty minutes doesn't at least make you cringe, then you are officially dead, as this is probably the most reactive movie you'll ever be able to rent from your local Blockbuster. If your idea of hardcore violence begins and ends with 'Hostel' then think again, as 'Martyrs' pushes the envelope even further, and that isn't to say that the gore is ever excessive or out of context. 'Hostel' is indeed much gorier, but that movie was made by a couple of filmmakers who are known to be excessive and exploitative, and in the end 'Hostel', for all it's pretentions to Grindhouse, is a Hollywood movie, albeit filmed to look cheap and tacky. This movie pushes the boundaries by suggesting that human nature is so depraved, so desperate to achieve knowledge about that which is beyond our existence, that so-called 'normal' people would stoop to any level to achieve it. Fortunately, there is salvation at the end - not for Anna, but for the viewer, who gets to see the results of what happens when Anna achieves martyrdom, and what it does to the person there to witness it. French cinema has been very busy of late, producing such graphic nasties as 'Frontier(s)' and 'Switchblade Romance', but where these movies are new twists on old themes, 'Martyrs' is strikingly original. The story moves along at a steady pace, and the lightning quick edits and unusual camera angles add to the feeling of frenzied madness that is coming from the screen. In contrast to that, some of the scenes near the end, when Anna is taking the full force of the brutality being dished out, are very beautifully shot, despite what is happening. The lingering shots of a desperate Anna, having been tortured, mutilated and taken the worst that humanity can offer, are almost poetic in their execution (!), and give the viewer that extra emotional punch, as if any were need. 'Martyrs' is uncomfortable, disturbing, humourless and mean-spirited. It is also competently acted and inventively shot, with a tight script and has probably some of the most realistic displays of violence and it's effects ever seen on film. It isn't an enjoyable movie but, at the same time, it is a movie not to be missed, and for once, it is a movie that is deserving of the title 'video nasty'.

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    • BenLinus

      Dec 6th 2009, 20:29

      1

      F**k. I actually turned to the person at the side of me and apologised to them for making them watch such a god awful, sickeningly disgraceful piece of cinema. What the hell is wrong with the french? Its not daring, its not artful and it certainly isnt worthy of committing to film. Its retentious, disgusting and wrong, plain wrong. What kind of a world do we live in where we can condone such films to continue to be made? Think of all the struggling writers/directors out there who have to fight tooth and nail to ahve their work made, when lets face it all you really have to do is create an excercise in the breaking of the human spirit and then try and pass it off as existential french s**t. This made me sad, sad that i would spend money on it, sad that the people in it didint have the sense to smell evil when they put their names to it and sad that no matter what i say these 'torture porn' films will continue to be churned out. the only thing that sets this aside from any other (hostel 1/2, Saw 1-6 etc) is that this time they conveniently masked the pointlessness in some 'religious' shroud of misguidance. Ridiculous, terrible, shocking and mind numbingly sad. I felt dirty after watching it, anyone that condones this film or actually took away with them some kind of joy or excitement from watching it should be sterilised, and that goes for the director. Oh, and yes....i got the message, i understood the point, i appreciated how well it was shot and how it played with the audiences reconcetions of run-of-the-mill horror genre...and you know what? It was still the worst thign i have ever seen. My comments will no doubt inspire others to watch it, my only advice is....it will be 108 minutes of your life that you will never get back and will leave you a little sadder inside if this is a taste of the future of cinema.

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    • gaydognamedsam

      May 18th 2010, 15:18

      1

      This is definitely one of the worst films I've ever seen. The first part was okay with some suspenseful moments, but that's it. As the film progressed it became more and more apparent that the director had no idea how to end it. It seems like he began the film as a fairly generic horror film influenced by Hostel but soon realised it was too much like Hostel and decided to go the arty route with some pseudo philosophical wankfest to try and justify the violence. It would have been better as a generic horror film. Who the f**k was the Mademoiselle?? What does she have to do with anything?? Who are all these old people gathering around??and to then shoot herself as a way of a resolution? That's just proof he didn't know how to end it. And if you want to see it to be shocked by the torture part which everyone else is saying was so shocking, it's really not that bad. Just a fat bald guy hitting her. Stupid film, not worth the money or the time.

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    • ellyka19

      Oct 25th 2010, 8:54

      5

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    • ellyka19

      Oct 27th 2010, 10:01

      5

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    • Jdawe1

      Nov 10th 2010, 11:51

      5

      The most disturbing film EVER!! And utter brilliance!

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      Jan 13th 2011, 22:22

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    • LoveOfCarnage

      Apr 14th 2011, 21:47

      'gaydognamedsam' wrote: "And if you want to see it to be shocked by the torture part which everyone else is saying was so shocking, it's really not that bad. Just a fat bald guy hitting her." ... glad to see you're not missing the point, there ...

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    • jaykay99

      Sep 18th 2011, 1:02

      1

      Nasty, pointless, pretentious, depressing, dehumanising piece of trash with not a single redeeming quality to recommend it A waste of celluloid and a waste of the only good thing about the film, some very good young female acting talent

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    • darrylsmith

      Aug 12th 2012, 20:04

      To benlinus and gaydog.......................... You obviously have no idea about horror movies. Martyrs is one of THEE best horror movies to come out in the last 10 years ! GO WATCH WATERWORLD !!

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    • jamesossipov

      Sep 3rd 2012, 7:22

      2

      There are two kinds of people in this world... People who think Martyrs is a brilliant masterpiece and people who think it's as dumb as Freddy vs Megasharktapus. The funny part is that the people in the former think the latter dont like it because they want Freddy vs. Megasharktapus (hence every reviewer who did not bow to it as a work of genius is told to go watch transformers instead). This however is not the case.I didnt like Martyrs because I thought it was dumb and juvenile. It just pretends it isnt. Remember that dark goth girl who wrote poetry, but the poetry wasnt actually very good or deep or insightful and typically was actually really naive and pretentious? That's Martyrs. Now I can respect Transformers, because Transformers doesnt pretend to be art or intellectual. Martyrs....not so much. 2 stars for the directing and the 1st act.

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