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i was lucky enough to see this masterpiece at Frightfest this year.
Pascale Laugier's worried about this movie. He was apologising to people who despised it, he was profusely thanking the people who liked it. He is the modern day equivalent of Victor Frankenstein. He knows that he has created a monster and doesn't really know how to deal with it now that it's being released upon the world.
Martyrs truly is a monster. It's a ground breaking, brave, stunning, brutal & moving piece of work that is guaranteed to divide audiences everywhere it gets the chance to play. Even at a genre event like Frightfest the audience reaction ranged from 'loved it' to 'hated it' to people actually going outside of the cinema to be physically sick (really). For me it was the highlight of the festival and i absolutely loved it but I don't believe it's a movie that anybody will truly 'enjoy'.
As others have already given away too much of the story i won't bother with a synopsis as Martyr's is definitely a dish best served cold. Not knowing what to expect makes this a refreshingly shocking piece of celluloid that will hopefully astound you with it's gutsy originality. Written by the director during a fit of depression (that he did not elaborate on in the Q&A) it is an almost schizophrenic movie with two distinct halves and coda of such ambiguity that it is possible to view it as nihilistic or strangely hopeful. It's beautifully shot, really well paced and contains outstanding performances from the two female leads.
This movie is inevitably going to be compared to Hostel and other movies in the horribly monickered 'torture-porn' genre and that is a genuine mistake. Martyrs bears more resemblance to movies like Nacho Cerda's Aftermath as there is nothing here that is designed to be titillating. The true horror lies in the the clinical detachment of the antagonists. In the end, despite all the on screen violence (and there are some truly brutal scenes on display here in the movies second act) the prevaling reaction that this movie elicited in me was not one of revulsion but one of true sadness. Martyrs really is a truly brilliant, surprisingly moving film and one that will remain in my mind, jostling for attention with my other thoughts for a very long time to come. Thankyou Pascale Laugier for creating a monster that i love...
French horror has been pushing the boundaries for some time now. First
there was Haute Tension, then A l'Intérieur and newest in line is
Martyrs, hyped up to take it all a little further. And it did, it
definitely did. It's just that it doesn't belong in the same list as
the films mentioned before. Martyrs goes way beyond.
Those expecting another fun, bloody, gory, insane horror flick can just up and leave, because Martyrs isn't like that. While it borrows the horror from films like A l'Intérieur and Haute Tension, the tone and effect of the film is much closer to Irréversible or better yet, Grandrieux's La Vie Nouvelle.
All these films belong to the French Extreme wave, a rather broad line of films of different backgrounds and themes, but all bearing an unrelentless level of extremity. And Martyrs stands proudly at the top of that list, even though Laugier himself seems a little hesitant to claim all credits for his film.
Martyrs starts off like you'd expect a bleak, raw and pitch black horror flick to start off. Only minutes into the film, bodies start flying and guts is spilled royally. Strangely though, there's no joy, limbs are flying enjoyment to be found. The presentation is cold, the characters are emotionally wrangled, the tension is harsh. Lucie, the main characters and victim of a year long torture plan, evokes the sympathy of the viewer and plays it out incredibly well.
The first half of the film keeps balancing on borderline horror, keeping its crude and dark exterior, but never crossing any boundaries. A Grudge-like ghost in added to the film, but Laugier stays close to the drama and never allows the film to become a mere horror flick. Things take a turn for the worse around halfway through, where the torture theme of the film is given even more power as Anna, Lucie's guardian, discovers the truth about the torture/kidnap story of the past.
From that moment on, the film becomes really uncomfortable to watch and crosses over to the realm of Noé and Grandrieux. We are witness of cold and painful torture scenes, driven to very unpleasant extremes nearing the end. The film follows the methods of the people who torture, which are based on repetition and endurance, making it all the harder to sit through.
In a rather surprising move, this film was released in theaters in Belgium by one of the most prestigious labels here, the reason for that is laid bare in the second half of the film. Rather that simply serve a story of horror and torture, Laugier digs deeper into the human mind. The idea behind Martyrs is not futile nor easily forgotten. There's a whole point to the film, elevating is above all its reference points (Saw and Hostel - sadly enough).
Martyrs is in a whole different league and is everything a film like Funny Games should have been. A definite assault to the gut, extremely graphic and to the point, without ever flinching or resolving to silly tricks to get a point across. It's a film only a director with love for the genre could make (remember that Mr Haneke, after two pointless attempts) and Laugier doesn't let down.
Visually, the film is well shot, though nothing out of the ordinary. The make-up on the other hand deserves some praise, same as the leading ladies who play their parts with conviction and depth (at one point Anna even shows a creepy resemblance to Falconetti in Jeanne d'Arc) . Essential to the film and certainly not an easy task.
Don't watch Martyrs to get a little horror kick, or to indulge in silly gorefests. This film will not deliver the fun thrills of regular horror movies, on the contrary. It's a bleak, depressive but all the more impressive look in the darker depths of the human condition, it will leave you cringing in your seat and it will make you want to look away. And it does so without ever numbing you down.
One of the most impressive films I've seen this year, a definite favorite and one that'll receive my further support through a DVD purchase, though I have no idea when or if I'll watch it again. Laugier uses every bit of skill he has to make Martyrs as painful as possible, and reaches further than any other has. A very solid 4.5*/5.0*, though no recommendation from my side. Definitely not a film for everyone.
What an experience. I'm a big horror fan and am happy watching and
enjoying 'popcorn' slasher movies for what they are but really the
genre is crying out for more pictures that truly assault the senses.
The French are particularly adept at painting bleak, unforgiving landscapes as well as thrusting you right into the action but rarely have I experienced anything quite so memorable as Martyrs.
Comparisons will (and have) been drawn with Hostel, Saw, Hellraiser and others but this is really rather misleading. Further comparisons have been drawn with Inside, Frontiers, Funny Games etc. and while slightly more credible in that atmosphere and psychology play a far greater part, none come close to Martyrs.
I'd challenge anyone not to be affected by this movie. It's gory, but you won't laugh. It's shocking, but you won't be able to look away. 24 hours later it's still running through my mind and if I see a better horror movie than this this year, I'll be truly amazed.
As much as I'd love to write more this is most certainly a film you should watch knowing as little as possible. Suffice to say the acting, cinematography, score, atmosphere and unbridled tension combine to create one of the most engaging films in this genre of the last two decades.
Watch it. Recommend it (it won't be easy) and let's hope Martyrs gets the credit it deserves.
Having missed the opportunity to catch this at the Midnight Madness showing in TIFF08, I decided to go against all stated horror movie rules and watched this today around midday at a complex in downtown Toronto.. It's difficult to know what to say about this movie really; like a birth or a death, you really have to experience it yourself and draw your own conclusions. What I will say is that as a committed horror freak, rare is the occasion when I tense up and watch a film contorted, somehow trying to protect myself from what I'm putting myself through.. It contains enough tough to see horror/gore to satisfy the bloodhounds (though it doesn't feel like another attempt to up the gore ante for the sake of it, thankfully) and then - if you can watch it and many couldn't - transcends the genre totally with a jaw-dropping final act which if you're interested in the human condition and the capacity for seemingly normal people to do incredibly bad things will have you asking questions for some time to come and recognising that when horror and ideas mesh successfully, the result can be breathtaking. Absolutely not enjoyable but there again if you go to see a horror flick at a film festival and you know beforehand that it originally received an X-certificate in France, kicking up an almighty stink in the process - well, you know that an open mind is the least you can bring to bear. With that in mind I would recommend Martyrs as a film of incredible tension, harrowing physical violence and indelible imagery; unsurprisingly, the director name-checked Dario Argento during the Q&A as a major influence in his youth and there is a clear and confident signature in the work which suggests some parallels can be made between the two film-makers. I loved this movie and for those who have already posted comments good, bad or indifferent (and I really can't imagine a neutral response!) I hope like myself you have come away with a genuine sense of having seen something the like of which we are unlikely to see for some time..
The film was introduced by the film's writer director Pascal Laugier at this year's Frightfest in London. The organiser's referred to the film as "The film they most wanted" of the 28 shown at the festival. It was easy to see why. Of all the films I saw at this year's Frightfest, Martyrs was not my favourite but without a doubt it is the one that plays on my mind the most. The film has been compared to both Hostel and Hellraiser but I think it has a lot more substance than both of those films. The central performances are top notch and Jessie Pham as the young Lucie is very convincing, completely holding your attention. So why only 7 out of 10? As well made as this film is, the subject matter is just so utterly disturbing I wanted this film to end a long time before it actually did. It is not a film that is to be enjoyed. It is not the escapism that you may be looking for. The first Act is a revenge story on a family who may or may not have been responsible for the kidnapping and torture of a young girl 15 years previously. It is the second Act though that is the more disturbing. The viewer wants it to end almost as much as the girl captured wants her ordeal to end. This is a must-see movie but certainly one that is going to divide audiences right down the middle.
this film is as terrifying as anything ever released. it takes events
from modern headlines and carries them to horrible, but utterly
believable extremes. performances, photography, editing, score, sound
design, direction are all spot on.
i live in a neighborhood where people literally get stabbed in the street, and this film scared the hell out of me. it creates a tension that is almost unbearable, and then it breaks your heart. the genius of this film is the degree to which you empathize and grow to love the protagonist(s.)
i was skeptical when i was told about how people supposedly fainted in the theater when they saw it. after watching this film, i absolutely believe it. there is one scene in particular that made me dizzy.
don't watch it alone, and don't watch it if you think horror films are supposed to make you laugh. this film will make you cry.
I wonder why so many compare this to movies like "hostel"...
There was only one movie coming up my mind after having seen this one: Clive Barker's "Hellraiser" (and other works from him...)
Other comparisons? OK, let's compare this to "high tension"... yes, we get realism. but then? There are too many movies recently that do nothing but hide their lack of spirit and story... in the end the audience is left alone without a believable motivation for what happened...
"Martyrs" is different. It's scary and disturbing. It's painful to watch and still there is some kind of relief. You may separate that movie into three segments... and the first two would make a whole movie on their own. What happens then takes the story to whole new level and the audience to a whole new perspective. With a cynical bang in the end.
I liked it.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
You just can't look away from this monstrosity of a film. I won't go
into full plot details because so many comments here already contain
the full plot. I can give a quick condensed version. Here there be
Lucie escapes from a cult that was torturing her as a child. She has to leave behind another girl and becomes haunted by the vision of that girl. Fifteen years later, Lucie sees a newspaper photo of the couple who tortured her. She goes to their house and kills the entire family. She calls her best friend Anna to come and help her. Anna gets there and has doubts as to whether this was the right family. Lucie kills herself.
After Lucie dies, Anna discovers a hidden section of the house. And she discovers the girl Lucie left behind all those years ago. And the girl is still alive, but so badly tortured, she is beyond real help.
Cult members arrive and kill the tortured girl. They take Anna and then subject her to the same tortures that Lucie and the other girl suffered from. Mostly, it's scenes of this man beating her very badly. And she's chained up a lot. It gets really nasty. There is no fun watching this. It's very much like torture scenes from Hostel.
Finally, they skin Anna alive and she has what they think is a divine vision, which is what they were after. She tells the head of the cult the vision. We never hear what Anna says. The head of the cult commits suicide. End of movie.
It sucked. First of all, this is not a real horror film. It's a whole other genre. It is torture porn no matter what fanboyz keep claiming. There's a big difference between a horror film that has scary monsters and such that we have fun with, and something like this which just goes to extremes and shows violence just to really show a lot of violence.
I really don't like this new trend in films. And the French seem to be running with it now. If you like regular horror movies, I don't think you will like this movie. If you are into Hostel type films, you'll like it.
To me, this film just promoted violence and torture of women and it was clearly stated in the film that only women did well as being victims. I didn't like this movie at all.
I too saw this at Frightfest with an audience full of horror fans.
Unlike all the other films of the festival, there were no cheers when
characters were bloodily dispatched. Equally there was no
unintentionally funny dialogue to snigger at (Jack Bauer vs The
What Martyrs did have was a suggestion of the emotional horrors (rather than simply the physical) endured by someone who has been tortured. That was the first half of the film. The second half shifted plot-wise and also provided us with a motivation (however twisted) for the abuse - far more creepy than simply entertainment for the sick, as with Hostel.
Despite it's bleakness I came out feeling uplifted, and evidently this was the director's intention. It could have been purely because this was the only film over the course of the weekend that had any intellectual aspirations, but it did succeed in eliciting strong reactions from the hardened horror audience, both positive and negative.
The nearest I can compare this too is Irreversible, but unlike Gasper Noé's film, I do feel that I can stomach another viewing of Martyrs, and the sooner the better.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Making its Stateside debut, Pascal Laugier's "Martyrs" was the grand finale to a spectacular constellation of fine horror films. "Martyrs" however, is not like a "SAW" or "HOSTEL" in which there are creative forms of torture served for your viewing pleasure, this film has an art house feel to it that leads into the bowels of depravity. It's demonstrates how evil man can be for the share pleasure of scientific research. It reminded me of a brochure that I received depicting the horrors of how animals are slaughtered for human consumption. If that is a brochure you'd rather not digest before dinner, "Martyrs" is the type of film you may not want to view on a full stomach. Brilliantly executed in ways better described only as experimental, Pascal Laugier takes us to the end of the tunnel, the last stop, to a place where there is no longer any separation between humans and animals, predators or prey, it' a place so dark, you will no longer have to imagine for now it has been recorded on celluloid. All the "SAW" or "HOSTEL" or any other torture porn created to date has nothing on "Martyrs". Why? Because they French know their cinema business like no other. They leave nothing up to the imagination and nothing is too taboo for them whereas here in America, filmmakers tend to like to draw certain lines when it comes to making horror films for shock value. "Martyrs" is one of the few crossover films that could play at a horror film festival, as well as a intellectually artsy festival or a gay & lesbian festival alike. It covers the gamut in storytelling and that is what makes this film so powerful and so inherently haunting ,it will carve many putrid memories in your phsyque long after viewing. I would not recommend this film to folks with weak stomachs.
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