As Lucie's plot, disappointingly, finishes by the films midpoint focus is then shifted to her long-term friend and partner in crime 'Anna'. From this point onwards 'Martyrs' sadly becomes pseudo-philosophical drivel in an attempt to give itself meaning and mask its little substantial intrigue. Alongside this the film often feels boring in moments and struggles with its shallow antagonists and missing direction. Overall it feels as if 'Martyrs' lost it way when it turned to Anna, and, although I truly enjoyed a few scenes I can't help but feel as if they would of worked better in a something less dishonest.
The film is best viewed without any prior knowledge of it's plot because it leads it's viewers down a very unexpected, shocking, and ever-changing narrative. In the tradition of not giving too much away, I will simply say that I haven't ever seen anything like this. I've never seen a film handle such brutality in such a cerebral and almost graceful fashion. It's a vicious human horror film that actually has something to say and handles it's subject matter with an unparalleled sense of professionalism (on a side note the make-up effects are astounding).
It pains me to be so abstract about "Martyrs" but the less you know about it is definitely the better. It's truly an experience, albeit one some viewers will despise. I don't think I've been very clear up to this point but I really loved this film. This isn't necessarily the type of film I'd "love" on the regular, but it really is a brilliant piece of work that is far beyond most films passing off as horror these days. It was involving, maddening, heartbreaking, and ended on a PERFECT note (yes, I'd call it a "happy" ending considering the situation).
I'd expand on my admiration of this film further, but I'd end up spoiling too much. I'm giving this my strongest recommendation knowing full well that most will call me crazy for doing so... But the important thing is you see this challenging and audacious work.
* Honestly, If I was to compile a list of my 25 favorite horror films of all time, this would be up there.
Pascale Laugier's worried about this movie. He was apologising to people who despised it, he was profusely thanking the people who liked it. He is the modern day equivalent of Victor Frankenstein. He knows that he has created a monster and doesn't really know how to deal with it now that it's being released upon the world.
Martyrs truly is a monster. It's a ground breaking, brave, stunning, brutal & moving piece of work that is guaranteed to divide audiences everywhere it gets the chance to play. Even at a genre event like Frightfest the audience reaction ranged from 'loved it' to 'hated it' to people actually going outside of the cinema to be physically sick (really). For me it was the highlight of the festival and i absolutely loved it but I don't believe it's a movie that anybody will truly 'enjoy'.
As others have already given away too much of the story i won't bother with a synopsis as Martyr's is definitely a dish best served cold. Not knowing what to expect makes this a refreshingly shocking piece of celluloid that will hopefully astound you with it's gutsy originality. Written by the director during a fit of depression (that he did not elaborate on in the Q&A) it is an almost schizophrenic movie with two distinct halves and coda of such ambiguity that it is possible to view it as nihilistic or strangely hopeful. It's beautifully shot, really well paced and contains outstanding performances from the two female leads.
This movie is inevitably going to be compared to Hostel and other movies in the horribly monickered 'torture-porn' genre and that is a genuine mistake. Martyrs bears more resemblance to movies like Nacho Cerda's Aftermath as there is nothing here that is designed to be titillating. The true horror lies in the the clinical detachment of the antagonists. In the end, despite all the on screen violence (and there are some truly brutal scenes on display here in the movies second act) the prevaling reaction that this movie elicited in me was not one of revulsion but one of true sadness. Martyrs really is a truly brilliant, surprisingly moving film and one that will remain in my mind, jostling for attention with my other thoughts for a very long time to come. Thankyou Pascale Laugier for creating a monster that i love...
It's not gonna play on your mind, it's not gonna make you jump, but it's compelling viewing and not what you're expecting.
It's almost two films in one and each with an equally intriguing (though totally different) feel.
I like that you never really know what the reality of the situation is throughout the first half of the film and that we are left with much being left up to intepretation.
But disliked that (to spite a really interesting concept) the last half of the film, which was meant to sort of tie up any loose ends (no pun intended), wasn't very well fleshed out. And left many vital points unanswered.
I feel if they would have cut out some of the torture scenes and spent a little time telling us more about the group who was doing the deeds (and why), it would have greatly improved the film.
All in all a very intense (almost too vilolent at times) film, that is well worth viewing for horror fans.
A young woman's quest for revenge against the people who kidnapped and tormented her as a child leads her and a friend, who is also a victim of child abuse, on a terrifying journey into a living hell of depravity.
It's a rare horror film that lingers in my mind for days after viewing, gnawing at my subconscious, but Martyrs, from French director Pascal Laugier, achieves just that thanks to its continuously evolving storyline and sheer, unrelenting brutality that is guaranteed to disturb.
A shocker form the word go, Martyrs opens as a young girl, Lucie, escapes from a dilapidated building where she has been held captive and subjected to torture by persons unknown. Fifteen years later, a now fully grown but mentally disturbed Lucie (the lovely Mylène Jampanoï) eventually manages to track down those responsible for her abuse and, accompanied by best friend Anna (Morjana Alaoui), proceeds to exact revenge.
Justice is swift, with a shotgun toting Lucie coldly dispatching her targets (and their innocent children for good measure), but even though Lucie's nightmare seems as though it is finally over, Anna's is just about to begin.
Martyrs might not be perfect, with a final act that is a little too drawn out (and arguably unnecessary altogether), but there's no denying the power of this film as a whole: it's the cinematic equivalent of a flurry of punches to the gut which leaves one feeling both queasy and breathless.
Laugier displays incredible control of his material, delivering tense horror and nerve shredding terror whilst also splashing bright red gore across every frame. By the closing credits, even the most bloodthirsty of gore-hounds will have had their fill of shotgun wounds, lump-hammer attacks, cutthroat razor slashing and skin removal, and although there are points at which I feel it might have been wiser to end the film, Martyrs' ultimately ambiguous ending does at least invite conjecture and debate about such lofty subjects as religion and the afterlife.
I am giving it one star only to put it ahead of Funny Games. This film is about the greatest "fuck you" that anyone could ever give to Funny Games. Pascal Laugier effortlessly upstages Michael Haneke's attempts at shocking, contemptuous violence and does it without the self-congratulation, or the winking, or the breaking of the fourth wall. As a condemnation of violence, it is infinitely more effective, but the fact that the movie even exists in the first place renders it self-defeating. Laugier's preface to his own film is necessary watching - to see him speak with candid excoriation of both himself and the monstrous work he has created is oddly cathartic. It let me know, at least, that this exists for more of a reason than the brutalization of pretty young French women.
At the same time, though, this is a through-and-through horror movie, and this genre is simply the wrong place to attempt a narrative like this. Horror inherently fetishizes assault and deformation of the human condition, physically, mentally and emotionally. For all its sanctimony and reverence of Anna, there still exists a harrowing ten minute scene where a woman mercilessly executes a family. We still watch a fleshy apparition ripped straight from J-horror scuttle through a house, bumping and jolting in whatever ways would most scare a lulled audience. The violence is not obscured or metaphorized, but instead lingered on, taken in. This may be justifiable in the final half hour, where this incessant brutality and torture are ascribed an arguable purpose, but everything preceding is there simply to cash in on shock and cheap scares. Where Martyrs would attempt to transcend its genre, it instead falls exceptionally hard into nearly every one of its pitfalls. Especially telling is a spot of gratuitous lesbianism that dismantles the film's "chivalrous" intentions and shows much of its true colors: a flick for the gorehounds to bask in.
That last half hour, meant to buoy the rest of the film, amounts to little more than an apologist cop-out, suddenly offering viewers something to mull over while still beating the hell out of Anna in the most exhibitionist manner possible. Martyrs ultimately amounts to the movie cashing in your hour and a half of misery and disgust for one very simple question: "what happens after we die?" Someone here learns (or does she?) and it drives her to act very oddly. Past that, we don't know anything. This one universal question is the movie's sole currency, its crutch for presenting this macabre, exploitative gallery. Perhaps Laugier was feeling awfully guilty writing this screenplay and tried to sneak in a little purpose. Two minutes of sophomoric twaddle about martyrdom and vision, however, do absolutely nothing to assuage my guilt and overall sense of dirtiness after watching this movie.
A film is generally successful in my eyes if it makes me feel something about the characters. Martyrs did, but what overwhelmed this was how I felt about the people responsible for making the film. As a movie viewer, I have a fairly steely aesthetic line, but so much of this movie shows wanton disrespect for anything even resembling thoughtful use of violence. For all its probing questions about the afterlife, and for all the tail-chasing masturbatory discussion of the nebulous ending, Martyrs is not brilliant. It is not above its genre; it is one of its worst examples. It is an overworked, garish fetishization of violence. There is far less thematic depth than it wants to believe. It's not even well-shot past the gripping first five minutes and the music, a half-assed call back to mid-70s Argento, is embarrassing. But maybe I'm wrong. I hate the movie, but I'm not upset that I watched it, and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't compelled completely against my own cognitive volition. I wanted to see it through, primarily wondering if it could redeem itself for atrocity after atrocity. I don't think so. Perhaps in the hands of a director with a grasp of brevity and restraint, this project could have been saved, and worked that thoughtful speck of quality into a truly great movie. The real talent here lies not with the director, though, but with the makeup artist (who as I understand recently committed suicide), and that is where Martyrs falters.
You should watch it, though. Consider this a recommendation.
But Martyrs is out to do more than just exploit violence like so many shitty American filmmakers (yes, I'm looking at you Eli Roth). It begs you to consider actions as a means to an end. It doesn't critique, but it forces you to witness how some people have no limit. To get what they want, they will do whatever it takes; the end justifies the means. And in this case, does it? If you're able to withstand the whole ordeal, this is definitely a film that will spark intellectual discussion, a sign of a pretty damn good movie.