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 lot of French actresses. "Martyrs" is the new "extreme" in European horror and makes the French horror film "Inside" seem like a regular horror film.
15 Years after Lucie Jurin (Mylene Jampanoi) had escaped from an icy torture chamber in an abandoned building, this woman is bent on tracking down the instigators to her past suffering. She enlists the aid of her long-time friend, Anna (Morjana Alaoui) to find the family who tormented her and exact her revenge. Lucie seems to be haunted by violent visions that may or not be real that puts doubts about her sanity. Now, as Anna and Lucie investigate the mystery behind this family, they find that things are more sinister than they had expected and they stumble upon a secret organization bent on creating "martyrs"…
"Martyrs" is extremely brutal and violent. The direction by Pascal Laugier exudes a very bleak atmosphere that complements the very graphic violence onscreen. The film has a great amount of blood and gore that never lets up. At first impression, I thought it was just going to be another "gore show" but the film's script offers a coherent plot and all the blood and gore just revolves around its screenplay. Laugier managed to keep the proceedings grounded and interesting, while the violence gets more brutal with each second, the plight of our protagonists becomes worst and worst, I became even more enthralled by the film. The film displays the VERY dark and twisted side of human arrogance, thinking that we can have answers by sacrificing morals and stooping to acts of brutality.
The screenplay by Laugier is divided into two acts. In the first act, we would be privy to Lucie and Anna's past. Lucie is haunted by visions of an eerie and frightening naked figure, who seemingly has been tortured, abused and bent on hurting her until she finds her tormentors. The viewer challenged to question the depths of Lucie's psyche, whether her wounds are self-inflicted or done by an unseen force. It was a wise move for the direction to seed the audience's impressions and instill doubt. We also see the depths of Anna's and Lucie's budding friendship, there are subtle hints of lesbianism as well as guilt. The two characters' development mostly come in the form of flashbacks. Fear, guilt, confusion and anger are the emotions taken into exposition. The film carries a lot of emotion and surpasses the clichés' of "torture porn".
The second act goes into the secrets and goals of the highly organized group obsessed with the secrets of life beyond death. The second half of the film (the last 40 minutes) goes into the experiences of Anna and the harrowing fate that Lucie had escaped from years past. Anna is beaten, forced-fed, beaten again within an inch of her life. The film also has the grand-daddy of all gore scenes that make the "skinning" scene in Argento's "Pelts" seem like a Disney flick. This half of the film is actually the part that got under my skin, as it contained disturbing sequences of violence against women. I have a strong stomach, and while it may not be the bloodiest cinematic experience I've been privy to, it certainly was one of the most brutal. Director Laugier exposition of Anna's suffering will no doubt generate sympathy from his audience.
For a film like this, the two actresses would have to perform admirably and they do; Mylene Jampanoi and Morjana Alaoui gives the performance of their careers. Amid all the brutality and violence, it would be easy to dismiss their performances and just let it all just wash over you. The two actresses manages to display all the needed emotions and if you look closely into their eyes you will witness the fear and major discomfort that they are experiencing. The film is nicely paced and has a fitting running time. I thought Pascal Laugier made the best of what he had. He did set the necessary groundwork and does give the film a satisfying climax, although I have to admit some viewers make scratch their heads as to what exactly happened.
Just what is "martyrdom"? Is it a state of suffering in the name of religious faith or can even non-believers be martyred? Is it a mere state of catatonia? Well, the film does give you an answer but it is left to the viewers' own comprehension. It challenges the viewer to question what they have seen, and if you paid attention to the film's entirety, the answer is staring right at you. Violent, bleak and disturbing with some thought-provoking ideas to instill our emotion, "Martyrs" is one great horror thriller that puts Hollywood to shame.
Highly Recommended! [4 ½ Stars]
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