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a French Horror Thriller movie

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4 ½ Stars: Stare Into the Dark Abyss of Brutality and Violence...

  • May 2, 2009

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]


Dvd cover Lucie hallucinations Anna Poster beginning of torture mademoiselle

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December 28, 2010
Indeed good Sir I felt the same way about this one, I may have even went ahead and given it a 5. Great review WP.
May 05, 2009
Great film! It's been a long time since one movie left me feeling so dirty. I think the last one I saw like that was the Director's Cut of Palumbo's Murder-Set-Pieces.
May 06, 2009
Thanks for the read and the friend request. This film was insane--wasn't really as bloody or gory as expected but it got under my skin...
May 08, 2009
No prob bro. You are more than welcome!! Yeah, it did really get under my skin although it's far from being the goriest film I've ever seen.
May 02, 2009
I could have sworn someone else reviewed this film. I thought it was the Count. Did you rewrite this very significantly?
May 03, 2009
nope, this review's new, my queen. Puzzle Box from amazon reviewed this some weeks ago. Maybe my French horror reviews tend to be more on the violent side that they sound like they're the same.
May 02, 2009
Just about every other country has been outshining American horror films for quite a while now. The problem is that since M. Night Shyamalan made it clear that a horror movie could be a bigger hit if it's rated PG-13 instead of R, the film industry has been slapping out one teen-friendly "horror" film after another and most aren't even remotely scary. Then on the other hand you've got the hard R-rated "horror' films that are just dripping with gore, and while some have been done well, most are just bad Saw-ripoffs. It's sad, the horror genre, which used to have great writers and filmmakers supporting it, has been reduced to formulaic vehicle pictures. So sad. :(
May 02, 2009
Agreed. Hollywood horror filmmakers have been very lazy; they rely on cheap remakes, and teen horror to keep the genre alive. At least European horror is going strong. This is one of the best horror films I've seen so far this year. But of course, "Let the Right One In" still has the top spot followed by this film.
May 03, 2009
Hollywood has always caterered to the the lowest common df\enominator even since a pole told them that a 17 year old white male was their target audience.  Let's hear it for drive-ins!.
More Martyrs reviews
review by . April 11, 2012
posted in Movie Hype
**** 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, …
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 …
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William ()
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Studio: The Weinstein Company

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