Monday, May 4, 2009

Martyrs (2008)

If you’re a horror fan, you’ve no doubt heard the buzz behind Martyrs, a French film from writer/director Pascal Laugier. Though you may have heard plenty about it, no manner of preparation could ready you for the raw, unpleasant ferocity of this film! If you are looking for a fun horror flick, Martyrs definitely isn’t it. It is a grim, relentlessly violent film that will have you flinching at your own shadow by the time it is through with you.

The film opens with young Lucie, battered, bruised and bloody, escaping her tormentors in a warehouse-type building. She is placed by authorities in a church-run foster home where she meets Anna. The two quickly become inseparable and Lucie confides to Anna that something is still afflicting her.

Fifteen years later, Lucie thinks she’s tracked down her tormentors, a seemingly loving husband and wife who have kids Lucie’s own age. Lucie brutally kills them all, but just can’t seem to appease a disfigured creature that continues to attack and physically harm her. Anna comes to Lucie’s rescue, not sure if Lucie is hallucinating or if what she says is true. But Anna is about to find out the excruciating pain that Lucie went through at the hands of her tormentors and the limits of torture that a body and mind can handle…and the reasons behind it all.

Martyrs is one of those films whose opening scenes will make you feel like you’ve been hit over the head with a baseball bat…and repeatedly pummeled with a sledge hammer. Its brutality is just relentless, and once you think that it can’t get any worse…it shocks you with the next scene. There are countless scenes of violence in Martyrs, most of them cringe-inducing, but the most effective scenes are when Lucie is attacked by the disfigured creature. The first few times we see nothing but shadows and quick movements, but each following scene involving the creature shows a little more and a little more…until we see it in its frightening entirety.

The disturbing images don’t stop at the creature, though (who is really only in the first half of the film). People get blown away by guns, stabbed, scratched, punched, beaten, a throat is slit, wrists are slit, people’s heads are bashed open, thick staples are removed from someone’s head to get rid of a metal blindfold, a person is flayed alive…I could keep going, but you get the idea; Martyrs features some extreme gore!

What I like about the film is that it offers a compelling storyline along with many visceral moments. The intriguing storyline just pulls you in and you want to find out why Lucie was tortured and just why a seemingly normal family would have a secret basement and just who is behind it all and why. It’s not just another exploitative film bombarding us with gore for no reason except to titillate; Martyrs has a very powerful ending that will actually make you think!

I really don’t want to say too much, because Martyrs is a film best experienced by going into it knowing as little as possible. It is a challenging film, both in regards to the violence as well as its message, but overall it is very rewarding to watch. I will say that I did have a problem with how the storyline flips from Lucie’s perspective to Anna’s perspective in the middle. It kind of makes it feel like two separate movies and the switch is a little bit jarring, especially considering that the second half is so much slower and methodical than the first. I even found myself a bit bored, but the beginning and ending of the film more than make up for the lull (you could even call it a chance to catch your breath) in the middle.

Martyrs is a grim, nihilistic film that is a witness to the many great horror films currently coming out of France (though it can’t really be compared to any of them). This is not a fun film and won’t be for everyone, but if you enjoy dark, traumatizing horror stories Martyrs will be right up your alley.

Available from Amazon!

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