Martyrs

"OK"

Martyrs Review


There has been a tremendous wave of buzz leading up to the U.S. release of Pascal Laugier's punishing Martyrs. Film festival reviews (it was nominated for Best Film at Sitges) were careful to give only vague outlines of the film's plot. People were whispering in chat rooms and on forums about the film's mind-shattering ending. The picture was hailed as visionary and ferocious and was seen by many as attaining that quasi-mystical state of horror film perfection. Some would even go so far as to say it was the ultimate extreme in horror cinema. Well, Martyrs is here and while it certainly is unique in some aspects, it's not the fabled ultimate horror film. The definitive "torture porn" flick, maybe, though I'm sure the film's fans would disagree.

Following in the bloody footsteps of Hostel, Martyrs opens with a young girl escaping the confines of a dank torture dungeon and only gets darker from there. This girl, Lucie (Mylène Jampanoï) is sent to an orphanage where she is looked after by the mothering Anna (Morjana Alaoui). While Lucie does not speak about her torment at the hands of unknown assailants, she does tell Anna about someone still hurting her: a ghostly contortionist (in the latexy Japanese horror mode) who slices and dices with wild abandon. Fifteen years later, Lucie's nighttime terrors continue but she and Anna have managed to track down Lucie's original tormentors (a seemingly nice suburban couple with two teenage children). After blowing them all away with a shotgun, Lucie's undead bruiser reappears and a life and death struggle ensues with Lucie at the losing end. Distraught, Anna stays at the house and uncovers a hidden subterranean laboratory with a current resident and a terrible secret.

Like a well-shot Twilight Zone episode with tons more nudity and graphic violence, Martyrs has one of those twist endings that actually surprises and makes the 85 preceding minutes of gruesomeness at least worth fast-forwarding through. That being said, there is truly nothing Earth-shattering on display here; the ending comes out of left field and is intriguing but can't possibly live up to the mystery the film sets up. Outside of the ending, the rest of the picture is literally torture: lots of naked flesh and lots of bruising and blood. It seems the recent wave of French horror filmmakers (among them Aja (Haute Tension) and Bustillo & Maury (À L'Intérieur)) have taken David Cronenberg's "body horror" manifesto to it's extreme, literally punishing their actors with legions of razorblades, scalpels, and scissors.

Much of Martyrs depends on the convincing performances by the lead women and they carry out their orders like Olympians. The amount of physical suffering on display here is truly mind-boggling and I can only imagine what the therapy bills looked like when filming was completed. The movie has an explanation as to why the victims are all (or always) female, but the context is superfluous: women are always the sufferers in movies like these. (I recommend Carol J. Clover's brilliant Men, Women, and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film as to why this is the case.)

While it certainly won't be forgotten, Laugier's film is ultimately a very off-putting one-trick pony. Like one of those cartoon mousetraps that has all sorts of extraneous gears and gizmos, most of Martyrs' running time exists only to get to the final big twist. And after you've seen it, well, there's no pointing in suffering through it again. It's just a mousetrap after all.



Martyrs

Facts and Figures

Run time: 99 mins

In Theaters: Wednesday 3rd September 2008

Budget: $4.4M

Distributed by: Bir Film

Production compaines: TCB Films, Canal+, CinéCinéma, Canal Horizons

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 2.5 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 55%
Fresh: 16 Rotten: 13

IMDB: 7.1 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director: Pascal Laugier

Producer: Richard Granspierre, Simon Trottier

Starring: as Lucie, Morjana Alaoui as Anna, Mike Chute as Bourreau, Catherine Bégin as Mademoiselle, Robert Toupin as Le Père, Patricia Tulasne as La Mère, Juliette Gosselin as Marie, Anie Pascale as La Femme

Also starring:

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