Pascal Laugier's gritty horror begins with the escape of 10 year old Lucie from a building where she has been subjected to some horrific abuse along with other children held prisoner. Placed in an orphanage, Lucie befriends Anna who learns that Lucie is haunted by what looks like a severely mutilated creature that inflicts severe cuts and beatings on the young girl. The story moves on 15 years where Lucie (Mylene Jampanoi) turns up at the remote residence of a couple and their two teenage children. This happy family idyll is ripped apart by Lucie who arrives armed with a shotgun and murders the entire family before contacting Anna (Morjana Alaoui) with the assurance that she has located the very people that abused her years before.
When Anna finds Lucie she discovers her friend is still at the mercy of the creature that is terrorising her though Lucie is adamant that her suffering should end now she has sought revenge for the past. Clearly the creature that pursues her is linked to Lucie's horrific childhood but only later do we gain a full insight into this. Anna is initially skeptical whether Lucie has murdered the right people but as the story develops she is introduced to a dark and violent world of abuse and torture, administered by a group of people in search of something truly unique.
Very much a film of two halves, Martyrs focuses on both Lucie and Anna at the outset but in the second half it is more about Anna. For me the first half is much better with Lucie seeking a violent revenge for what was done to her when she was just a girl. As the subject matter already suggests, Martyrs is a brutal and extremely violent film where torture has been inflicted on some very unfortunate girls and young women. The reasons behind such acts become clearer as we move towards the denouement but even that twist in the plot doesn't elevate this enough into genius territory. This is a film that will be remembered more for the violence as opposed to the story.
Martyrs begins well but loses its way in the second half. Uncompromising in its depiction of abuse and violence, this is not a film that will appeal to a wide audience. Although I have come across more extreme films than this one, I wouldn't recommend this for the faint-hearted. A better thought out second half could have made this one memorable but in the end its more about disturbing the audience than giving us a journey to be a part of.