Aaauuuuggghh. That’s the sound of me just having watched 2008 horror film Martyrs.
From the New French Extremity movement, Martyrs is ostensibly the story of a woman (Mylène Jampanoï) seeking revenge on her torturers, but is really about so much more.
I won’t give away too much about the film, which surprises at every turn. Just when you think it’s one thing, it becomes something else entirely. And it really has to be seen to be understood. This is a philosophical horror movie with something to say about life, death and nothingness (told you it was French), which can only be said via these extreme means.
And I do mean extreme. Martyrs makes Saw look like a picnic (in a toilet). But this is no torture porn. In fact it’s the opposite; writer/director Pascal Laugier shows the effects of torture and cruelty. It’s like Hostel turned inside-out.
We’re never invited to enjoy or excuse the torture. There’s no sense of gratuitousness or voyeurism. Instead, Laugier offers a uniquely pensive and strangely affecting treatise on violence, trauma and humanity (and the lack thereof). This is mind-altering, gut-churning, soul-cleansing cinema; perfect Sunday morning viewing.
It’s also psychologically intense and physically gruelling throughout, so it’s certainly not for everyone. But as horror fans, we wait patiently for a film like this to challenge us and redefine the genre. We sit through tedious knock-offs and endless sequels, waiting for something fiercely original to penetrate our jaded sensibilities.
Martyrs is such a film. It has a proper, unpredictable plot, terrifying atmosphere and intelligent ideas to fuel debate (not to mention nightmares). There are great performances (most notably from Morjana Alaoui), jaw-dropping effects and surprising levels of emotion. It’s a film of clear artistic virtue and transcendental beauty.
This is a highly evolved work of pure horror, which reportedly caused walk-outs and faintings at festivals (the ultimate compliment). Martyrs is one of the most profound (and profoundly harrowing) horror films of recent years; a devastating howl of a movie.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to watch some kitten videos on YouTube.