Written by: TheFecalKid
The French just know how to make a good horror movie. Inside, Frontière(s), High Tension, the list goes on. I first saw the trailer for Martyrs last fall and was immediately sold. There's just something about these dark, gritty films that does it for me. In its very essence, this is a film about torture. Before you jump to the obvious "Oh great, another Hostel", let me just explain. It is a film about torture, yes, but it in no way falls under the torture-porn category. While it is very graphic - and believe me folks, it's quite graphic - the story is whats most important here. It's a bit of a twist on the classic rape-revenge story that was so popular in the late 1970's, with some modern horror style thrown in for good measure. I know it's only March, but this beats out Tokyo Gore Police for my number one movie of the year, hands down.
When Lucie (Mylène Jampanoï) was just a young girl, she was kidnapped. Held captive in an abandoned warehouse, she eventually breaks free. She is picked up and brought to a mental institution where the doctor's determine she was not sexually abused by her captors. Instead she was chained to a chair, starved, and routinely beaten and tortured. The doctors and police are unable to get any information from her, not even her new friend Anna (Morjana Alaoui) - another patient in the hospital - is unable to coax the story out of her. As you can imagine, Lucie is pretty fucked up from all the time she spent as a prisoner. She had even become so used to the abuse, she frequently cut herself while in the hospital. Plagued by nightmares and visions of people constantly trying to get her, she feels that the only person she can feel safe around is Anna.
We jump ahead 15 years to see Lucie as a mentally and physically scarred young woman. Anna still remains her best and only friend, supporting her and attempting to help her get her life back on track. It would appear that Lucie still has some demons in her closet. Literally. Almost everywhere she goes she sees the vision of a pale demon in the form of a woman who beats her and slices her with razors. It seems as though Lucie's fear of this demon inside herself and the anger she feels for what happened to her will destroy her life until she thinks she recognizes her kidnappers from 15 years prior in a newspaper clipping. When she finally catches up with these people, you can bet there will be some swift and well deserved justice being dished out.
Personally, I thought the movie was going to follow a very simple formula. Get free of your kidnappers, grow up, find your kidnappers, torture them to death. It seemed the likely approach to a film like this, but luckily Laugier had something else in store for the viewers. What I thought was going to be the ending of the film ended up taking place in the first 15 minutes, and the remainder of the film was a constant barrage of twists and turns. I honestly had no idea where this film was going to go. Every time I thought I had it figured out, the rug was pulled out from underneath me again.
Everyone knows that Inside was a bloodfest of epic proportions. By the end of the film the entire house was covered in blood, the bathroom especially. This movie was no different, with Laugier taking every opportunity so soak his leading ladies in more of the red stuff. Some of this was due to the most grisly and brutal death scenes I've seen in a long time, but most of it was a result of Lucie's inner demons getting the best of her and carving her up with knives and razors of all kinds.
For fairly new actresses, these two did a phenomenal job. This was the first horror picture for both of them, and with the kind of acting they displayed, one would think they'd been doing this for years. Even more impressive is this was only Morjana's second feature film. Mylène, who easily had the best role in the film, did a fantastic job as both the antagonist and protagonist of the film. A few years back I saw her in The Chinese Botanist's Daughters, an Asian romance drama. She definitely took a step up with Martyrs. This role was not only physically demanding, but it required her to play a severely damaged person, both emotionally and physically. Kudos to her for pulling of the role masterfully.
This film is not for the easily disturbed. It is relentlessly gory, shockingly realistic, and most of all, insanely vicious. I was in awe of the amount of violence and cringe inducing moments this film had to offer, without once selling itself short. Between the fantastic acting and the excellent direction, this is yet another film to be logged away into the big book of French classics. If I may be so bold, I might even say it's the best of this particular wave of unflinching and brutal French horror flicks. Director Pascal Laugier has definitely set the bar high for the next director who thinks about venturing into this territory. Sadly, much like [Rec], this film is already in talks for the inevitable American remake. Laugier has confirmed that he is in negotiations for the rights of the American remake, but let's not get our hopes up. Personally I think this film is going to end up being bigger than Inside or [Rec], with which it most commonly compared to. Martyrs is truly the to-watch film of 2009. 10/10.