Struggling to Explain Martyrs


A few weeks ago I rented Frontier(s) and was treated to an enjoyable and well-done horror movie from Xavier Gens. I was impressed. The film reminded me of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, but it still felt fresh and exciting. I was riding high on a wave of French horror when another French horror movie made its way to the video store shelves. I had heard about Martyrs, but stupidly hadn’t read any of the articles about it fully. I just knew it was new and “ferocious” and French.

I had been thinking of buying Frontier(s), but it was out of stock and Martyrs was in. I picked up a copy and brought it home. I have a girlfriend and we live together. She doesn’t enjoy much horror, but to her credit she will stop channel surfing and watch Evil Dead whenever it is on TV. She doesn’t like the type of outré and extreme horror that I’ve been watching lately though, the kind of horror that Martyrs is. She got home after I had been watching Martyrs for about an hour.

I had to shut it off because she would not have had the ability, nor would many people I imagine, to be in the same room when Martyrs is playing. So there I was having watched the first hour of an increasingly fucked up movie. I then went online and read a bit about the film that was slowly eating away at the inside of my head and found out that the last 30 minutes is where all the craziness happens. “Great”, I thought. “I only thought I had seen the messed up stuff but the real shit is yet to come.” Personally I don’t agree with that. The last thirty minutes of the movie was the only part that I thought was really watchable, or re-watchable.

The rest of the movie is a goddamned trial and it ain’t easy to get through. When I turned off the movie the first time I was scarred. I lost sleep. It’s hard to talk about because there’s a lot I could give away to those who haven’t seen the film. The movie has three basic sections and you can’t talk about any of them for fear of ruining part of the surprise. After I watched the first hour of the movie I knew I had to finish it, but I was pretty sure I’d never want to see it again.

I thought of throwing the movie away. I thought of throwing all of my horror DVDs away and readjusting my movie life to not include horror anymore. That’s how crazy Martyrs made me: I examined my horror-viewing habits and decided it was unbecoming for a normal person to love horror. Why would I want to watch these disgusting things that people have the capacity to do to one another? These feelings only lasted for a night, but it was quite a night sitting up in bed thinking about all of this while my girlfriend slept soundly next to me. I couldn’t even tell her about how I was feeling because that might mean having to tell her about Martyrs and I figured she didn’t want that information.

On the surface Martyrs is a great standard horror movie. It’s scary, brutally violent and the visual effects are fantastic. Sitting through the effects is no big deal. It’s when you mix those effects with a story like the plot in Martyrs that you get a visceral gut reaction like I had. There isn’t anything, if you take the elements out of context, that’s any worse than anything else you’ve seen in a graphic horror film. The whole time you are watching Martyrs you know what’s going to happen. The film is called, Martyrs, it gives it away right in the title. Deep down you know, but on the surface you still have an idea of how a horror movie is supposed to play out.

There is a strong character that fights and rights wrongs. (But it’s called, Martyrs.) People will see the errors of their ways. (But it’s called, Martyrs.) I thought that knowing the outcome and having hints all along as to what was in store for everyone would help cushion the blows, but it didn’t. The movie beats you up just the same and you’re powerless to stop it. In the end I found that I have a great respect for the movie. It made me think about the role of horror in my life and how I view it. Martyrs made me examine its structure by being terrifying and predictable simultaneously.

When you get to the end there is a large question looming: Does this mean it’s all over, or is this the beginning of a new cycle? I don’t think that gives anything away, but when you reach the finish ask yourself that question. Then realize how much more scared you are of the potential of the answer than you were of the question. Martyrs stuck with me. Not everything effects everyone in exactly the same way, so I’m not going to say that this movie will move all of you, but it was a singular experience for me. I don’t feel like I saw a work of transcendent genius, but within the genre that we all love this is an affecting milestone.

Editors Note: Martyrs is a controversial film which has gotten a mixed reaction from fans and currently has a 69.17% approval rating with horror fans. Details below.

France. A night at the beginning of the 1970s. Lucie, a little girl missing for over a year, is discovered wandering by the side of a country road. Near catatonic, she can say nothing about what has h...
69.17% Approval
(Based on 9 Reviews, Write one )

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