Pascal Laugier’s second feature arrives with the usual baggage of faintings and walkouts. But Martyrs should be admired, not reviled; a bold cast into the dark waters of enslavement and suffering.
In the superb Making Of, Laugier shows the precocious instinct that’s led to him being offered Hellraiser. His interview is smart and effusive – a Tarantino-ish rattle through the film’s themes and insights. On Saw, a backhanded dismissal: “I love it! It’s in the Punch & Judy tradition.” On the “racist” Hostel, a Gallic smirk: “Martyrs is an anti-Hostel.” Most witheringly, he deflects criticism of his own film by pointing to the more pervasive emotional violence of reality-TV shows.
It’s easy to see why he’s defensive. Martyrs’ story of a young woman who escapes and hunts down her torturers is worlds away from misogynist pap like Captivity – or, some might argue, Eli Roth’s shockschlock.
The jolts of ultraviolence sting more sharply because they’re part of a well-made, skilfully edited film that’s interested in provocation, not titillation.
Laugier’s premise – sustained brutalisation can push the victim onto a higher state of consciousness, a near-death epiphany – has troubling parallels with the Christian view of Christ’s ‘passion’. So why, he demands, should spiritual reverie be exclusive to religion?
Laugier’s high-concept twist can’t quite bear the weight of his ambition, but twitchy, tactile editing and graceful camerawork will keep you riveted – and revolted – to the end.
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