Martyrs is not, by any stretch of the imagination, an easy viewing.
In fact, I would go as far as to say that most people should just straight up not watch this movie, like ever. But for the more sadistic among you, or for the terminally curious (such as myself), I realize no amount of warning will keep you away.
Personally, all the articles I read about how extreme/difficult to watch/horrific Martyrs was, served only to pique my curiosity further. But hell if I don’t wish I’d never seen it.
Oh well, let’s do this thing.
From quite literally the first second of the film, Martyrs drops us into a world of pain and terror, as we watch a very young girl run screaming from an abandoned factory where she had been held captive for months. The child’s body is a map of suffering; bruised and bleeding from multiple wounds, the little girl Lucie has clearly been the victim of prolonged systematic torture.
Victim, remember that word.
A little while after her escape, Lucie is befriended by young Anna, a little girl who promises to always take care of her. Even as Lucie begins to be haunted by a contorting, horrifically tortured, emaciated dead woman (portrayed by Cirque du Soleil contortionist Isabelle Chasse) who attacks and wounds Lucie repeatedly, Anna is always there to clean her up and take care of her. This relationship will become the catalyst for all the events to come.
Fast forward 15 years and we are shown into the home of a nice looking suburban family, where mom, dad, teen bro and tween sis are sitting down to breakfast. Suddenly the doorbell rings and dad heads to the door to answer.
Shot number one; dad goes flying back, his chest blown open, dead instantly. An armed young woman with wild eyes steps in, closing the blood soaked door behind her. Shot number two takes down mom and the children run in opposite directions.
There is blood everywhere.
Teen bro is stopped as he tries to escape. Shot number three ends his life, but not before his killer asks one question. “Do you know what your parents did to me?”
The final shot hits sis in the back and Lucie, the shooter, is the only one left standing.
Confused and afraid, Lucie calls her only friend for help. She killed them all, she tells Anna; she killed the people who kidnapped and tortured her. Although horrified, Anna comes to her aid, but not before Lucie’s phantom woman attacks her with a razor blade. Anna arrives in time to tend to Lucie’s wounds and afterwards she begins the unenviable task of burying the bodies.
And here is where the movie changes from a film about revenge to something completely different.
Although I’m trying not give away too much, let me just say that Anna makes a horrific discovery behind a hidden door in the house, which puts her on the path to her ultimate fate. From here on in the title begins to make sense. We learn of a shadowy group of mostly elderly rich, upper crust types (natch) who believe that the systematic torture of young women will result in the creation of martyrs, not victims mind you, because anyone can be a victim.
“Martyrs are exceptional people”, says the villain. “They survive pain, they survive total deprivation. They bear all the sins of the earth. They give themselves up. They transcend themselves… they are transfigured.” So once the martyr is transfigured they can, apparently, see into the afterlife or some ridiculous crap like that. And then of course, the martyr will just cheerfully tell these old assholes all about what’s waiting for them on the other side (as if it would be good news after all the sick shit they’d done).
You know what I’d like clarified about all that? Why the sweet fuck don’t these movie villains ever use one of their own for their cruel experiments. Like, alright guys, we’re all gonna draw straws and whoever has the short straw will get tortured to martyrdom and/or death, whichever happens first….Oh, tough luck Henry, be a good chap and sit still while we beat the ever living fuck out of you.
All kidding aside, this is definitely not one of those awesome “let’s watch it 37 times in a row” type of horror movies. It’s a blood soaked nightmare of a film, and despite the fact that I usually have no issue with blood sport in horror, the imagery here is just too realistic for my taste. The blood is thick red and black and sickly rust brown, and it coats the characters’ hands and faces like a new layer of grotesque skin you can almost smell. The close-ups bring you right up to the carnage and leave you staring into gaping wounds that bear no resemblance to special effects (which I suppose is a win for the make-up team). It’s evident that director Pascal Laugier meant for every single grim image to horrify, and although Martyrs does achieve just that, it lacks something fundamental in my book, it’s no fucking fun to watch. It’s too serious and bleak to be fun and too unpleasant an experience to be entertaining. The performances by the two leads, Morjana Alaoui (Anna) and Mylène Jampanoï (Lucie), although fantastic, are so real, so incredibly raw and unforced that it is nearly impossible to watch the events unfold around them without recoiling in horror and discomfort.
Worst part? Let’s just say it worms it’s way into your brain and sticks with you. Personally, it took me about a week to get over it the first time I saw it, and now having re-watched it to refresh my memory, I kinda wanna scrub my brain clean.
Sooooo, final word. Is it a good movie? Uh, no. Is it a bad movie? Weeeellllll, no, I guess not. Do I recommend it? Fuck no!
So what type of movie is it, you may ask? Martyr’s is a well directed, brilliantly acted and incredibly fucked up movie that is absolute torture to watch, pretty much from beginning to end…but, you know, if you can get past all the bad stuff, I guess it’s not that bad…no wait, scratch that, yes it is.
Different opinion? Can’t wait to hear it.