Over the recent years movies such as Hostel and the Saw franchise have pushed blood and gore to new heights. Gore hounds have been pleased by this move away from PG-13 horror into more adult fare. Remakes such as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Hills have Eyes, while light in substance have been heavy with violence and gore. This American fare still cannot compare with some of the violence and gore coming from across the Ocean. The French especially have shown great skill in producing extreme blood and gore, many times without sacrificing an absorbing storyline. The latest installment to French horror is Martyrs.
Martyrs is a 2008 film by French director Pascal Laugier that was released in the United States on DVD in April 2009. Martyrs was screened at Cannes in 2008 and an American remake, sadly, is being negotiated.
The film revolves around Lucie and Ana, two best friends seeking revenge for the horrors inflicted on Lucie as a child. Their plans spiral wildly out of control as Lucie’s past continually haunts her and we are left to decide what is real and what is in her mind. At least we are left to wonder until the second part of the Martyrs, when things go from bad to nuclear.
The story begins with Lucie escaping from an abattoir in which she has been imprisoned and tortured. Then it cuts to news coverage of her escape where we are told that she has been horrendously tortured, yet she has not been sexually abused. Lucie is placed in an orphanage where she befriends Ana. Even in the safety of the orphanage, Lucie cannot find peace as she is continuously tortured by a creature that only she, and the viewers, can see.
Martyrs then shifts fifteen years into the future into what we assume is a normal family home. The family is enjoying a typical breakfast, discussing family matters when suddenly a young woman bursts in and slaughters the entire family. We soon discover that this is Lucie, who believes the family to be responsible for her torture due to a newspaper clipping. After her murderous spree she calls Ana who comes to help her clean up the scene. We find that the creature is still haunting Lucie and inflicting horrible wounds upon her. Ana meanwhile, is disturbed by the violence and questions if the family was actually guilty.
Ana find that the mother is still alive and tries to help her escape. Lucie discovers them and brutally kills the mother. After killing the mother, the creature reappears. We discover that the creature is actually a manifestation of Lucie’s subconscious guilt over not rescuing a fellow captive when she escaped. With her quest for revenge now sated the creature drives Lucie to commit suicide. Ana. grief stricken over the loss of Lucie remains in the house, presumably awaiting arrest when the bodies are found. Ana is left with nothing but the knowledge that she is alone and has unknowingly helped in the slaughter of an innocent family. Then she finds the secret door to the underground storage and the horror of Martyrs really begins.
Do not go into this film expecting an easy viewing experience. Martyrs is not a movie on par with Hostel and other “horror porn” that uses blood and gore just to titillate. Don’t expect a happy ending in any traditional sense. While Ana may have found her measure of peace and even revenge, we the viewers don’t get off that easy. Martyrs is a movie where the pain and torture is all too real. What is just off screen may be worse than what is on, but the one screen torture is enough. It will make you wince and it will make you pray for the end. You will look for the “out” for Ana and it will not be found. Martyrs is a film that pulls no punches. The director has stated that many actresses turned this film down due to it’s content and I can easily understand why. Art is not safe and Martyrs is not a safe film. It will haunt you. It leaves you with a certain amount of ambiguity at the end, but in no way leaves you with any hope for the characters, or for any of us really.
The film received a 18+ rating in France which is akin to a NC-17 rating in the states. The rating was appealed by the film makers and cries of censorship have arisen over the decision. The French Society of Film Directors (SRF) have also asked theMinistry of Culture to re-examine the decision remarking that "this is the first time a French genre film has been threatened with such a rating." The Union of Film Journalists has also protested the rating. While Martyrs is definitely not a movie for children, it is not torture porn. It is a film with a well crafted story. A brutal and unflinching story, but never less a great story and should receive a rating that allows people to make their own choice about whether to see it or not. Not everyone will be able to stomach Martyrs, but if given the chance between the latest Saw installment, consider seeing Martyrs instead.
Martyrs stars Mylene Jampanoi and Morjane Alaoui who deserve praise for their willingness to take part in the movie. It was directed by Pascal Laugier who also directed the fantasy horror film Saint Ange and a making of documentary of The Brotherhood of the Wolf. An American remake of Martyrs is apparently in negotiation and while American remakes of foreign language films seldom if ever rival the original, at least it might bring the original to the attention of a wider audience. Take a chance and see a movie that isn’t safe and Martyrs definitely fit’s the bill. The film ends with the Greek definition of Martyrs as those who watch. Appropriate that all of us who watch this film are indeed Martyrs.