Thursday, November 26, 2009

Martyrs (2008)

So I was looking for something different. I often jump around the international horror genre and thought, "where are some places of which I'd like to see more?" I didn't feel like a zombie movie (I know, shock of shocks) and have recently had a string of disappointments in the Japanese ghost genre so I wanted to have a break from that for a while. I'm always open to recommendations and the one for the 2008 French film "Martyrs" came from Andre Dumas, author of the great horror blog The Horror Digest. She did not steer me wrong on this one. Not by a long shot.

"Martyrs" was directed by Pascal Laugier and not only stars but showcases the tremendous acting talents of Morjana Alaoui and Mylène Jampanoï. I mean, they are so good in this, my paltry words do little justice to their talents.

As I begin, let me tell you that to discuss too much of the plot is to give too much away. The twists and reveals that unfold in this bloody thriller are so much a part of the ride, it'd be like showing you a blueprint of a roller coaster, then taking you on it. No way. Much like the first time I road a roller coaster a mere seven years ago when my brother said, "let's just ride the biggest one and see if we like it." "Martyrs," much like that roller coaster, was something I liked very much. So I'll show you the roller coaster, which may involve some little things revealed, but it's up to you to ride it.

I'll take you only so far in the recap, but after that, you're on your own. A young girl, bloodied and beaten, stumbles out into the harsh daylight from a run-down abattoir (full of rust and decay - see my earlier post on how much I enjoy buildings like that). She is tense with fear and adrenaline, and as she starts running, she allows the screams to finally escape. The girl, Lucie, is rescued and raised at an orphanage as the investigation into the building reveals nothing but some remnants of her torture. Standing out in particular is the chair to which she was chained, a hole in the seat providing a place for her to relieve herself. Immediately, you, the viewer, want to get your hands on the vile filth who put poor Lucie through that.

At the orphanage, Lucie is at first anti-social and withdrawn. One brave, compassionate little girl, Anna, reaches out to her and becomes her best friend and sister figure. But being friends with Lucie isn't easy. The nightmares never left her. Not only that, there is a mysterious, violent figure that haunts and attacks her.

Cut forward 15 years. An affluent French family enjoys a nice breakfast full of banter and teasing, mixed in with some teen angst. The daughter is a champion swimmer. The son is a restless genius. The doorbell rings and as the father answers it, an adult Lucie (Jampanoï) blows him away with a double-barreled shotgun. Weeping and shaking, Lucie systematically kills each member of the family before breaking down, then calling Anna to come help her. Anna is terrified. Lucie was supposed to confront the couple. Why? From a newspaper article on the daughter's swimming exploits, Lucie swears the parents are the couple who tortured her all those years ago. Swears that it's them. But Lucie has some serious problems. That mysterious person, a horribly disfigured, growling woman, repeatedly stalks and attacks her in the home. Anna is there to calm Lucie down, even getting her to sleep, but it's no easy task. Anna takes it upon herself to dispose of the bodies, but even that has its complications, as you will see.

It's not long after Lucie's final breakdown that the movie takes another of its sharp, 90-degree angle turns and almost throws you from the ride. Oh, yeah, and get ready for more because they're coming. Did I mention the bloody, brutal house of horrors section of the ride? Yeah, steel yourself for that, too, because it is relentless. "Martyrs" takes you from believing one thing, to revealing that there is something much, much deeper. Much, much more sinister. There is a moment while Anna is talking to her estranged mother on the phone from the family's house that involves a door. A door that wasn't there just minutes before. It is the moment that your roller coaster gets that much more thrilling, more intense. What happens after that will run your poor little soul straight through the wringer. You will learn what the title of the movie means. Let me just say two words as a clue: manufacturing martyrs.

The ending is...well, I won't give you a shred of what happens in the last portion of the movie, but it's open for interpretation. It will leave you thinking about it long after you power down your DVD player. To me, that means something. I haven't mulled over an ending like this since "The Mist."

I cannot gush enough about this movie. The acting set the bar high. The photography and direction is beautiful, bordering on Hitchcockian. I understand that Laugier is tabbed to direct the remake of Hellraiser. I'm not often keen on remakes, but Clive Barker's creation would be in good hands if this film is any indication of the type of product Laugier will put out. Oh, and the twists and turns, the twists and turns...

It is a roller coaster that will blow your mind, slug you in the gut, and headbutt you...and you'll ask for more.

So make some popcorn and enjoy the ride.


  1. While anyone that reads your review without seeing the movie would be making a grave mistake, I will continues with the spoilers myself in the hopes that no one has read on without first viewing Martyrs.

    I really loved this film and it will be in my top three films of the year when all is said and done. It is like two different films that do flow together very well in story, but in style and tone is where the difference is. I love the first half and its almost ultra-violent crime film meets monster movie and the ambiguity of it all is fascinating.

    The second half, well, more like the third act, is an exercise in true terror and relentless abuse of the viewers senses. Incredibly powerful and totally disgusting, yet I loved every second of it.

    Two major stand outs were when the old woman utters the word "doubt" just before she takes her own life. The other is the look when Anna is skinned alive and looks up into the light, the moment when she transcends into martyrdom. The look on her face is like something I have never seen before in film. Truly thought provoking and frightening images and dialogue done in the most simplistic ways.

    Martyrs is a masterpiece, but one that is not for everyone...which is unfortunate that some people can't go along for such a powerful ride. Great review.

  2. Woohoo! Thanks for the shout out! Awesome review I love how you compare it to a rollercoaster soooo freaking true. Sigh your review makes me want to watch it again but I don't know if I have the strength!

  3. Matt, you hit several nails on the head with your comment. The two images at the end, I had the same reaction: just utter amazement. They made my little brain step up and accept the challenge, which is never a bad thing.

    Andre, of course you get a shout-out! Prepare for more if I like some of these other movies, too. I know how you feel about watching it again. I want to own it, but I feel like I'll have to steel myself for repeating viewings...much like riding a roller coaster!