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Mathew F. Riley [Film Festival 08.27.08] horror

Year: 2008
Release date: September 3rd (France)
Director: Pascal Laugier
Writer: Pascal Laugier
IMDB: link
Trailer: link
Review by: Mathew F. Riley
Rating: 9 out of 10

Martyrs is a film that has certainly caused quite a media-frenzy over the last few months. Virtually banned in France when the powers that be slapped an 18+ classification on it, the film finally saw the light of day when it was begrudgingly reduced to a 16 and sent off to do its damage. Frighfest gave it a UK premiere this week, and it's likely to get a straight to DVD release in the US, having been picked up by the Weinstein Company. So you’ll all have a chance to witness this infamous work soon enough.

Lucie was abducted in the 1970s and held captive for a year in an abandoned slaughterhouse. The doctors find no evidence of sexual abuse, suggesting something other than the instant gratification usually associated with abduction cases. After her escape Lucie lives in a care home where she meets Anna, herself a victim of abuse, who becomes her best friend and confidant. But Lucie is haunted by strange guilt that violently manifests itself as an emaciated woman who continues to inflict pain upon her. Cut to fifteen years later, when Lucie is out for unmerciful revenge and trying to trace those people she believes abducted her. Anna helps her but is harboring doubts that hurting the people who abused her best friend will not end up helping. But, when she discovers an underground chamber,] engineered to be used for some pretty specific and unwholesome subterranean intent, It soon becomes clear that the people Lucie has found are part of a larger circle; a secret society that has enough money to guarantee silence. It's in these pristine, purpose-built surroundings that Martyrs sets off on its visceral journey through extremely dark places to eventual enlightenment.

Martyrs will most likely be compared to the Hostel films, and those other French fancies: Switchblade Romance, Frontiers and Inside, but for all the wrong reasons. Yes, there's a secret society that abducts, tortures and ultimately murders innocents, but the patrons of this particular group have very specific reasons for targeting women only; and it's via this shared and secret obsession that Martyrs transforms into a brutal quest for knowledge that, in the view of this particular sector cult, can only be gained through disciplined abuse and torture. The inference is that there is a close network of members and locations dotted throughout France, each with their own subjects, each subject being forced to go through the same unspeakable regime, towards the same end. (I hope I'm not making it sound like The Da Vinci Code or something equally lame).

Martyrs delivers a true feeling of hopelessness in its depiction of victims being subjected to an unrelenting program of suffering. There is a fifteen minute sequence that is so astonishing and painful to watch I just wanted it to end, and quickly. Then I realized, for the victim it lasts months, and only leads to other levels of preparation for what she must face. This sequence is not meant to be enjoyed, on any level.

The sect's quasi-religious thirst for the unknowable ultimately saves Martyrs from falling victim to its own gory excesses, which in the first two-thirds of the film are considerable, and on a par with the bloody events seen in the aforementioned films. But Martyrs isn't a torture-porn film in the Hostel sense of the term, in fact, far from it. Those films are no-brainers, about killing for the sake of killing. Martyrs has a reason for every piece of its protagonists' pain. Pascal Laugier should be commended for giving us such a well-written, technically brilliant, thought-provoking and stomach-churning experience.

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beefjerkycrown (13 years ago) Reply

I couldn't disagree more with the statement that this film isn't about "killing for the sake of killing." The trite and quite frankly non-sensical reasoning the story provides vis-a-vis the depiction of sickening torture in this film inspired nothing but pure anger and disgust in me. I don't have a big problem with extreme films that push the envelope in terms of graphic violence and I'm not trying to sound like some kind of moralizing puritan, but this film left me enraged by its arrogant conceit that the horrible violence portrayed in it had some kind of "message" or "higher purpose". I'm sorry, but anyone that bought into the very flawed logic the cult in the film posits for continuing in its "research" had to have been watching a completely different film to me. It's essentially a 1 1/2 hour torture sequence that attempts to rationalize that torture with some fundamentally unsound theories on martyrdom. I can't go into this any further without "spoiling" it for potential viewers but please believe me, if you have half a brain there's no way you will appreciate this film. For supporters of the film that suggest it's "thought provoking", I'd be very curious to know how they can explain why the film chooses to spend only about 2 mins of dealing with these "intellectual" ideas whereby an entire 15 min continuous sequence is dedicated to the brutal, systemic abuse of an innocent woman? Could it possibly be because any further exploration of aforementioned ideas would reveal them to be completely stupid and illogical? At least Hostel and Inside don't attempt to elevate their violence to a level of rationale. It's difficult enough to sit through most of the scenes in Martyrs without also being told that there's also supposed to be a point to it. That's the truly unforgivable thing about this film. What surprises me most is that Pascal Loubrier talks very articulately about Martyrs and the motives behind him making it. It's a shame that the film ultimately bears no resemblance to what he's discussing. I'm not going to lie, there is one incredible sequence early on in the film. Otherwise the film truly is nothing other than torture-porn, I don't give a crap what feeble excuses the film, its director or the pundits give.


Jamie (13 years ago) Reply

I could not disagree more with beefjerkycrown! I never thought I would ever start off a review with such a sentence either! I found Martyrs a truly horrific experience. However an experience I was pleased to have survived. There is no way you can enjoy this film, you merely endure the sheer horror of what is presented on screen. It is hard to review without giving too much away, but I could not disagree more with the term torture porn or gorno. Neither apply to this film. The systematic abuse experienced by the two central female characters is in no way sexually orientated, there is very little nudity in the entire film, and there is none of the gross dismemberment witnessed in Hostel, Paradise Lost or any of the other recent lame horror films. This film is much more akin to the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre in its relentless horrific narrative, and also Wolf Creek. I think the motive we are offered at the end is not a justification for what has gone before, simply a narrative trigger to attempt to set it apart from other films and make the audience consider other subjects such as religion. It is an incredibly affecting film, certain sequences left haunted me for days afterwards, I have seen most horror films and very few have left me speechless. Martyrs did.


taylor (13 years ago) Reply

SPOILER WARNING - FOR THOSE WHO'VE ALREADY SEEN THE FILM (DON'T BLOW THE EXPERIENCE FOR YOURSELF): I'm still dying to find people to talk about this movie with. I agree with Jamie and the reviewer. The sequence in the film involving torture does not, in any way, mirror or blur the lines of proper (and pathetic, disgusting and IMO useless) torture porn. That's not what is happening here. The person inflicting the torture is not getting a kick out of it. The victim is not being toyed with. There's a purpose being served. It's this guys job. This is actually proven, in the story, by humanizing the family Lucie finds as an adult. Even if you just HAVE to single out the one scene apart from the film, there is nothing sadistic there. I repeat, the violence is NOT SADISTIC. And Torture porn by definition (if it had a definition) would easily include the word "Sadistic". I don't understand how so many people seem to miss this and then just try to suggest it's some thinly veiled excuse so the director can put torture porn on the screen. Please.

Here is a film, for all intents and purposes that plays out like a cookie cutter horror film. You, the viewer, build an expectation of how things are going to go, but then, the story changes, the lead character changes and then it looks like it's going to be some other kind of film (and I was really annoyed when the torture started because I hate TP movies) and suddenly it becomes clear, it had a purpose. This isn't some redneck in the middle of nowhere who kills people who happen by for kicks, for fun, or because their daddy abused them. No. This is something else and the something else ties the entire film together. It's not just a twist on a twist. It's a proper film. And that says a lot for the Horror genre.

Chainsaw (loved it) is pointless. It's the deranged redneck... the originator. Wolf Creek is exactly the same, except it's been done before, the redneck is in the Outback this time. But Martyrs, these people aren't deranged, they're free thinking. It's real.. or at least plausible. The things done the name of god or religion. By the selfish... this is true horror. Plus, our girl, in the end, is ultimately victorious, she decides herself.. and actually in some ways stops being the victim. There's a lot to be said about this film... but it's certainly not Torture Porn.


simon and ste (13 years ago) Reply

it was a good film but the hype has left me unsatisfied. This film should not be part of the french extreme as it is not very extreme. Any major scenes of graphoic violence were edited out. We have been waiting for this film for many months now hearing of it being more extreme than l'interieur but it fails miserably to deliver on that promise. Not even on the same page as films such as frontiers or inside.


funnyfargo (13 years ago) Reply

The hype left my expectations rise to an unthankful level. Even reliable reviewers wrote that good about Martyrs.

While I was watching this flick, my expectations had been slightly disappointed.


Martyrs knocked the sh** out of my ass in so many other ways, I even never didn't realizied while my watching. I think each Third of the movwie has its own power and ambition. I you take it as it is and don't think "WHY this way?" in the first place, but think "WHY NOT" cos it ain't that usual?
This movie is extraordinary.


superbat (13 years ago) Reply

Actually beefjerkycrown I think Inside's "elevating reasons" for its violence was the tormented shock of a mother separated from her unborn child. Never saw Hostel so I can't comment. And if you want to talk about hard to watch I actually found that Inside was more edgy in its treatment of violence. Something to do with those scissors. Yeesh. But maybe this film just got to you in a more personal way. I had a friend who couldn't watch drowning scenes and hated The Abyss for that reason. I found the endlessly melting Grandma in the movie Feast II was much harder to endure than anything Martyrs or Inside had to offer. Martyrs on the other hand is a real horror movie: its relentless and unappolgetic with its imagery, well constructed and unpredictable with its storytelling, and in terms of its horror/violence/torture it sits nicely on the cutting edge (no pun intended). The actors (or actresses mostly) are fresh and visually exciting to watch on camera. The effects are flawless. And beyond all of this is an ****SPOILER ALLERT**** ending that makes you think about life after death in a profound way. I mean the whole build up, the torture, the violence, and ultimately our heroine's sympathetic detatcment, almost giving herself up for these people's cause is all justified at the clinching moment of revelation: what happens after death - it's just about to be revealed - and then - BLAM! The old lady blows her head off. I mean that was bloody fantstic retribution and ultimate revenge at its best. All these poor old bastards who are so tortured by their own fear of what lies in wait for them after death that they have been torturing people for years only to have all their hopes blown all over the john. Ah, very satisfying. And good on the director for making us use our imaginations to come up with what the ANSWER was. I think we all filled in the blanks with our rusty old imaginations. Hell I don't doubt that if it was an American film they probably would have had angles flying around or a big CG Satan. Nope, I've got to say thank you Martyrs for one of the best if not the best contemporary horror films I've had the displeasure of seeing. And yah if you can't take a little blood stay out of the butcher shop for goodness sakes. ;-) Stop taking the piss out of it for the rest of us.


Anonymous (13 years ago) Reply

This movie is spiritual and philosophical more than anything else and it is indeed not some red neck TP movie.

The movie is about a sort of initiation process or the Night of the Soul one sometimes become forced into before one realize that the Enemy is actually the saviour...


AJ (13 years ago) Reply

Can some one tell me why this movie is so great ? I mean what the' main essence is in second half, I don't know why they even shoot 1st half.

I would call this a big confused production. Ii mean yah some time it was scary but wait a min.... if you wanna get scare like this for a min or two walk to some jungle alone in 2 am in night. It might scare you more at the end she told something to old women and no one from the audience can hear the word what she is trying to say and that fat old lady shoot herself in her mouth without telling anything to any one Thats a big bullshit.........


Axlerod (13 years ago) Reply

Martyrs is an interesting film, disturbing and thought provoking. As a horror film, it has done its job--which may be the most one should ask of a horror film. After all, what is the purpose of the horror genre? To be shocked, startled, reviled, disgusted in the safety of one's family room or the local theater. Entertainment.

However, it is odd to me how some posters seem to find "greatness" in Martyrs. This is not a great film. I do like the acting, the camera work and editing are technically competent, the sound and music good--which quite a few horror films lack! Martyrs is a well-crafted movie in the Hollywood style. (It IS made in the Hollywood style--Media Studies majors get over it...) But, the grand epiphany that supposedly comes through intense and prolonged physical pain as seen in the photographs of other tortured people throughout history, although intriguing, is not supported well enough in the script to overcome my willing suspension of disbelief. The cellar hallway scene, of course, with the Cult's leader explaining to the main character the need for torture with the photo album is almost comical in its brevity. The film would have been creepier had delved into the occult and the mysterious efforts of alchemists...or, say, if the secret organization were financed by the Vatican. We're not told, and I think to the film's detriment. How can martyrdom be talked about without religion. On the other hand, how can torture be rationalized without some self-serving (most would coin this kind of enterprise as evil) intent? Of course, anyone thinking that the male torturer and the others are just "doing their jobs" would probably find "the whole Nazi thing" to be no big deal....

No. What horrifies me about this kind of film is that it glorifies a false intellectualism that treats graphic torture in a relative light. I'm not as worried about the "American Rednecks" loving this film as much as the mildly educated 20-somethings who think that they have stumbled upon something deep in this film--which they'll probably buy and place next to their TOOL CDs....


boycottthissite (13 years ago) Reply

I'm glad I watched the movie before I read this shit review. I wonder how many people you've SPOILED it for by giving away most of the major plot points in these few, poorly written paragraphs.


UncleB (12 years ago) Reply

Disturbing and Great!


Tara (12 years ago) Reply

This movie is horrible, nasty, and ultimately unoriginal. The only thing to get out of it is that there are truly evil people, and there is no limit to the evil actions capable of them. How old is this chewed-out crap?
A review post pointed out an interesting line in the film, "There are only victims left in the world..." This has struck to the understanding of the film and to the insight of the director - to parade depravity, to make a statement by extreme victimization, and to profitably sell this recycled bs by applying artistic make-up. This lead to the question of the mind capable of conceiving such depravity. How deprave such a mind to feel accomplishment from making such hopeless a statement, to succumb to it, and then, to regurgitate and sell it? Just read history textbooks, and anyone can conjure up unspeakable horrors. Just ask what would physically hurt most, and dig deeper, or tear deeper to arrive at the violence of Martyrs. Then, go to film school to learn how to light it. It is a shame that a director who capable of beauty chose to sell himself short, and exercise his talent on crap. Then, again maybe it is the time, the culture, the society, and the world that allow for nothing else but victims.
As for those who reviewed this movie as "greatness" (as noted by Axlerod), a horror flick is a horror flick. Its foremost objective is to disturb, shock, and horrify audience. It does not require a genius of "greatness" to come up with torture techniques, then add visual and sound effects that can rouse just about any emotions. Show people a chicken flapping around with its head cut off, and most will get squeamish. (Btw chicken with head just chopped can flap around.) It does not qualify as "greatness".
Stop promoting this movie as philosophical, insightful storytelling. Once again, it's a horror flick. Martyr was made for audiences who pay $11 to get scared. Is it not clear that by promoting it as anything else is just a big fat joke? Or, maybe it is because these reviewers cannot justify to themselves how they can sit through such numbing disgust.


Tara (12 years ago) Reply

Furthermore, a watcher who thrills at this film is nothing more or less than a driver who slows down to watch an accident on the road. This is what needs to be decided upon. Are you someone who slows down to watch an accident? Can you justify your moral value to your action?
Do not justify the accident as a beautiful work of art.


rain_king (12 years ago) Reply

Thank you Axlerod, you essentially summed up my main problem with the film; its absurd level of pretention. I mean, come on; having some characters mutter about some vague, confused notion of martyrdom does not make this an "intelligent" horror film.

Here's the cheat of this film. The ultimate premise of the film, outside of the torture porn, is so shallow and poorly conceived that it seems profound. Some people in suits give a bizarre explanation of why they do what they do, and an ending occurs without an actual conclusion. We are told that there is some deeper meaning in what we have watched, but the film fails to support anything of the sort in its run-time. Still, the illusion of depth is established; we are assured that we are watching meaningful stuff, so even when it is not apparent, we convince ourselves that the meager intellectual offering of this film is more than a gimmicky save for a by-the-book gore flick.


CCR (12 years ago) Reply

wow, mostly 'intellectuals' bashing this flick...typical self-righteous, holier-than-thou responses, but i wouldn't expect anything less, given i can grasp the 'moral' extent to which ppl become uber-critics..
this film is, to ME, one of the most explicit(in violence and subtext) movies i've ever witnessed. i've read countless blogs and threads about this movie since watching it, just to get a general idea of the response....and it's decidedly divided right down the middle, for obvious reasons.
this movie disturbed me more than any other, and the ending was DEFINITELY the deciding factor as to whether this was violence for violence's sake, or something else....and i am one of the believers in this film's unrelentlessness, as i found a sad, yet profound, insight into humanity.
NOT for the squeamish, for sure! and obviously not for horror fans that try to justify the reasons behind a horror film when they don't understand when one of those films actually makes a point about society and they can't live with madamoiselle, oddly enough
this film is a cinematic masterpiece, and no, it's NOT something to be enjoyed, but it's a movie that tears at your soul, if you have one, and forces you to believe that the world is totally f cked, and there's nothing you can do about it...evil is in ALL of us, and all we can do is hope for more from humanity...good luck w that, right?


MCD (12 years ago) Reply

I *HATE* watching films in which women are subject to violence and horror simply because of their sex. That said, this movie doesnt sanitize the brutality that is implied in most movies and on television when women are victims. It barely stands on the line with out crossing it and going to an 'idiot driven plot' ie: the characters do idiotic things just to keep the plot moving;
Nothing much shocks me, but I can be bored easily by stupid plot. I kept thinking enough already, hoping the film would just END-I gave up on her escaping;
A well made film about nothing-A mortal sin in filmaking
Except for hanging around that house for so long. WHY?


MCD (12 years ago) Reply

I might add that the madam might have quite the surprise in store for her when she 'awakens'-SHE didnt 'EARN' her vision of ecstacy like the girls did. Likely she went straight into hellish realms-as she used the suffering of others to map a hoped for pathway to heaven-without buying a ticket.


Sol (12 years ago) Reply

Funny how the people who bash this film for being pseudo-intellectual, always sound so pseudo-intellectual themselves.

Some qualities are relative to the genre of the film being discussed - if Pride & Prejudice had a decapitation scene, it would be considered a pretty gory Romantic Comedy Period Piece, but tame by Horror standards. This movie IS an intellectual Horror film - would it be considered intelligent in film as it is broadly-defined? Probably not, but I was definitely blown away by how thought-provoking it became after enduring the first two-thirds which was strictly horror (and very well done horror at that).

This movie is certainly horror done right with a lot more depth than is found in most films of this genre - one of the best I've seen.

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