Written by: jay_wigger
The film: It's rare that a film so polarizes viewers that there is no middle ground, but writer/director Pascal Laugier's Martyrs is so stark in its depiction of brutality and its psychological effects that even some hardcore horror fans had trouble singing its praises. If ever there was a poster-child for a 'love it or hate it' movie, Martyrs is it; you're not likely to find anybody who's seen it say that it was just alright.
The past year or two has ushered in a New Wave of French Horror films (À l'intérieur, Frontière(s), Ils) that are extremely graphic while also providing commentary on the current social and political situations in France. Expanding on this notion, Laugier (Saint Ange, the upcoming Hellraiser 'reboot') has crafted a brutally violent art-house horror film that starts out as an intriguing revenge film only to take a left turn directly into a commentary on theological fanaticism, in which extreme methodical violence against women is oddly justified. Lucie is a young girl who escapes captivity and is found by authorities, her body covered in the signs of physical (but not sexual, it is important to note) abuse. Unable to recount what has happened to her, she befriends Anna, her roommate in the orphanage she is placed in. Fifteen years later Lucie (Mylène Jampanoï, Crimson Rivers 2) believes she has found the strangers who tortured her all those years ago and, with Anna (Morjana Alaoui, Marock) as her support/enabler and egged on by the physical (in her mind, of course) manifestation of her own rage, sets out to exact revenge. As is wont to happen in these types of films, things don't go according to plan and we are thrust into the final act of Martyrs, which explains the reasons behind what happened all those years ago and goes on to show us, by way of a new 'witness', exactly what their plans have been all along.
With Martyrs, it's almost as if Laugier needed to fill the first hour with his best imitation of the current French horror trend just because an hour-and-a-half of what we are subjected to in the final act would be too much for even the most twisted horror fanatic to endure. In fact, part of Martyrs was filmed in Montreal and Laugier said that some of the crew, not knowing how well-choreographed and -rehearsed the beating sequences were, were extremely sickened and offended by them. In somewhat of a for-horror-fans-only aside, it's to be noted that Laugier dedicated this film to Italian horror icon Dario Argento and has included some winking fan-boy nods to many of his films, particularly Suspiria, in Martyrs. See if you can spot them...it may take your mind off of some of the disturbing sequences on the screen.
The DVD: The copy reviewed here is the bare-bones Canadian widescreen release of the film on DVD and contains the original French audio track in excellent 5.1 Surround Sound with English subtitles. There are no special features to speak of, unless you count a theatrical trailer and two teaser trailers as special features. Collectors may want to wait until April 24th, when The Weinstein Company is releasing a version that includes a 55-minute making-of documentary. Of course, any collector worth their salt has a region-free DVD player and would want to get the European release of the DVD which has the 85-minute version of the making-of, as well as an hour's worth of extra features that include an interview with Pascal Laugier and a featurette on the special effects of the film.
Final Thoughts: In an interview with Rue Morgue magazine, Pascal Laugier said that his film "is not a very likeable movie." This may be true, but it doesn't mean it's not a good movie. Despite being as unsettling and brutal a film as you're likely to see - or perhaps because of this - Martyrs is a film that should be seen by anybody who likes a side order of thought-provoking ideas with their entertainment. We're not saying you're going to like it, we're just saying that you should see it. - originally reviewed at www.ioncinema.com