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a French Horror Thriller movie

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Emotional horrors.

  • Apr 11, 2012
Rating:
+5
**** out of ****

"Martyrs" is a true - and great - horror movie in the sense that it's not the kind that is best enjoyed with popcorn and soda. Today, the higher paying audience for this genre seems to be teenagers; so horror movies made for adults are essentially scarce, but Pascal Laugier has reminded me of what it is like to both see and feel the pain that is being inflicted to the various characters on-screen. You can't care about the wound if you don't understand it, and here, the camera captures everything from the penetration of the knife to the withdrawal. One look, and one can tell that this is a sickening, cruel, nihilistic, and violent film; and it never stops being all four of those things. From the establishing shot to the moment of closure, never is there a good omen or a single ray of sunshine. Not even seeping through the cracks; no, everything about the movie is dark, dark, dark. Sometimes I have a problem with that, and other times I don't. "Martyrs" is such a relentless, full-frontal assault to the senses and my personal beliefs as a movie-goer that I don't even know what to think of it other than: wow. I am officially, undeniably in awe at the moment.

The first image that graces the screen with its unpleasant presence is that of a little, beaten-up girl running from a darkly lit room and a series of tall, desolate buildings. We are told that it was within the walls of those buildings that she was physically abused, that her name is Lucie, and that her long-time assailants can neither be identified nor located. Lucie's body was discovered by members of a local orphanage, who took her in and nursed her back to health as best as they could for a long period of time. In that time, Lucie met her one and old friend; another black-haired girl (around her age) named Anna. They share a bedroom, thoughts, lifestyles; never telling anyone else their secrets or their plans for the future. It is heavily implied that they will stick together until death, and oh, they'll certainly try.

Fast forward fifteen years, and the two are still very close; but they've since left their home at the orphanage and attempted to start life anew. From the looks of things (they've devised a clever revenge plot against people who they believe to be the perpetrators of Lucie's childhood torture), that didn't quite work out. Lucie walks in on the family (again, that she believes to be the perpetrators) with a loaded shotgun and murders every last one of them, even the two teenage children. These acts of violence are heartless and inhuman, but then again so were those committed against the poor girl very early in her unfortunate life. And so, the first half of the film must go on; with Anna trying to find a way to dispose of the bodies, and Lucie being subjected to extreme psychological torture (in the form of a trauma-induced hallucination of a scarred, anorexic girl who is truly the stuff of nightmares) to the point where she questions her own sanity. Once she does, it's time for the second half.

And I'm not going to give away any of it. This is one of those films where I would prefer you walk in - if you walk in at all - with as little knowledge of the film and its story as possible. This will make the experience all the more surprising, rewarding, and memorable, in my opinion. Although as far as that last one goes, it could very much go either way. Nevertheless, the second half deals with the back-story behind the torture that Lucy endured. There must always be a motive; and the one in display here is intriguing and provocative. In the second half of its story, "Martyrs" becomes a keen and intellectually stimulating existential tale that will certainly appeal to the thinking man/horror fan rather than the simple-minded fellow who happens to tag along for the extreme violence on display. And indeed there's a lot of it; graphic depictions of stabbing, mutilation, metallic objects being ripped straight from the skull, and finally, the after-effects of a body that has been skinned alive. From those descriptions alone, you can decide on whether you actually want to see the film or not.

I understand that many of you won't, and I'm not going to single out those who do as brave or courageous. This is easily one of the most violent films I have seen, but at the same time, it's also one of the most moving and intelligent horror films I've seen in years. The 2000's were a disappointing decade for horror, but there were a few gems; and this was definitely one of them. It draws you in with its characters, the ultra-violence (none of which, if I might add, is played for your entertainment), and the emotional impact that it has on just about everyone that lays eyes upon it. The gore effects are so realistic, and the performances so utterly convincing (Morjana Alaoui as Anna and Mylene Jampanoi as Lucie are both superb); this is the making of a disturbing thrill-ride, but indeed it's so much more than that. Hell, I would not be praising it so highly if it wasn't.

If you like horror movies that are terrifying, unforgivingly violent, yet sophisticated; this one promotes thought and conversation after the initial viewing. Then you'll (probably) want to watch it a few more times to absorb the message and the experience itself. It's so much to take in all at once; one time is simply not enough. Most of the time, a film must be entertaining and "fun" to earn multiple viewings; but this one is rich, engaging, and yes, vile. But consider this: Laugier achieves a certain dimension of human sorrow through the violence that he depicts. He's mature about how people see his creation - he apologizes to those who hate it and thanks those who like and/or love it - but above all, he demonstrates an understanding for mankind's physical and emotional pain. You honestly don't get that out of most horror movies, but then again, when you do; it's almost unfitting to categorize the final product.

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April 13, 2012
Excellent review! I am sure you know by now that I loved this horror movie. So happy you liked it as much as I have!
 
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More Martyrs reviews
review by . May 02, 2009
posted in Movie Hype
Dvd cover
French horror films have been outshining Hollywood horror for the past few years. Writer/director Pascal Laugier's "Martyrs" is an ultra-violent, harrowingly brutal and disquieting film about human suffering; both mentally, physically and emotionally. At first glance, one would think that this film has religious undertones but no, it takes a different road as to how it makes its point. I've read that the film was rejected by a number of large French studios, and has been rejected by a …
review by . May 23, 2009
posted in Movie Hype
French Horror Reigns Supreme
Prior to viewing Martyrs, I had come across many reviews which obviously I would ignore. After all, I love the Horror genre as lately French Horror films have really stepped up to the plate & delivered the goods. Martyrs isn't an exception to that rule although I believe this one may have surpassed even my expectations.      Forget the slasher genre before watching Martyrs. I can go ahead & tell you this in advance. Irregardless of what glimmer …
review by . May 13, 2009
I was pretty nervous before sitting down to view Martyrs—but not for the reasons you might expect. Sure, I'd heard about how intense and soul-crushing the film was and how people felt that you could admire it but really not "enjoy" it, but for me those kind of statements inspire a different sort of dread than what was intended. After spending over a decade writing about horror films (and nearly three decades watching them), I'm more scared when a movie comes so highly touted than I am that it might …
About the reviewer
Ryan J. Marshall ()
Ranked #3
It's very likely that the only kind of reviews I'll ever post here are movie reviews. I'm very passionate about film; and at this point, it pretty much controls my life. Film gives us a purpose; … more
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Studio: The Weinstein Company

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