MOVIE: Martyrs (2008)

martyrsThis was another film I picked up off the local video store’s “Recommended for Halloween” shelf.  But I think this French film is going to be extremely hard to describe in a way that truly conveys WHY I found it so incredibly powerful, because it cannot be described without detail of the absolutely ASTONISHING amount of violence and gore, if only to serve as a warning to you guys.

And yet, at its root, this film is actually one of the most heart-wrenching, thought-provoking movies I have ever seen.  Almost beautiful, certainly incredibly powerful, it’s a story I would describe as being primarily about women and trauma, and the amazing resilience sometimes found therein.

[NOTE:  SPOILERS are contained below, so skip the review if you think you are going to watch this.  But don’t skip all of it — go down to the very bottom and read the very last paragraph, because if you are going to rent this movie based on my recommendation, that paragraph is mandatory reading from my perspective.]

This film opens fifteen years ago with a young girl (Lucie), maybe 12 or so years old, found running half-naked and covered in blood, howling, through the streets of an industrial area in some unidentified French town.  She is discovered and hospitalized, and it becomes clear she has been the long-term victim of systematic  torture and abuse (not sexual, but utterly heinously physical).  At first, she can barely communicate, but she eventually makes friends with a younger fellow patient, Anna, and over time, they become extremely close.

Cut to fifteen years later, with a nice family at home having breakfast:  a mom, dad, and their two teenagers, sitting around the table joking and joshing the way loving families do.  Suddenly, an adult Lucie bursts through the front door and shoots all four of them in the chest point-blank with a shotgun.  She then calls Anna who, horrified, shows up to help.  Lucie has long been haunted (in her mind) by the “ghost” of a girl she’d also seen being tortured one room over when she was a captive, a girl she’d had to leave behind.  That “ghost” slices Lucie with a razor at every chance — but Anna knows it’s really just Lucie mutilating herself.  And so, knowing her friend is crazy, she doesn’t fully believe her when Lucie insists the parents she’s just killed were the same people who assaulted her as a child.

When Lucie realizes Anna doesn’t believe her — not even now — she lets the ghost take her life.  Devastated, Anna can’t bring herself to leave the house — or Lucie’s body — for another full day.  Just as she’s about to leave, though, she stumbles across a hidden room in the house that leads down to a horror chamber just like the one Lucie had described.

What happens next is virtually indescribable, and completely unstomachable.  Another victim, a new round of attacks, and the most astonishingly graphic violence I have EVER seen on film.  Absolutely the very definition of “horror,” in fact.

And yet, this film was impossible to stop watching, much as I desperately, desperately wanted to turn it off.  The two stars (Anna and Lucie) are amazing, for one thing.  Anna’s expressions of love, fear, care, horror, and more for her broken, broken friend Lucie are among the most powerful emotions I’ve seen expressed by an actress in anything ever.  And the entire concept of the “martyr” (defined by the movie as a “witness”), was intensely powerful as well (even while the actual set-up for the martyrdom made little sense to me — for those who have seen the film, if the thing witnessed by Anna was, in fact, the group’s ultimate goal, why didn’t they just do what Kiefer Sutherland and Julia Roberts did in Flatliners?  That would’ve been much more effective, in terms of their ultimate goal, right?  Though it I guess it wouldn’t have been as sickly satisfying for them.  Maybe that’s the explanation.).

I kept thinking, actually, that this is a movie Eli Roth really needs to watch.  Because this is what he needed to do with Hostel — he focused too much on the sick thrill of the violence (which, frankly, seems almost laughably tame compared to the violence in this film), and not nearly enough on the actual emotions, motivations, and ultimately the incredible resilience of his movie’s survivors.  By comparison, Hostel seems downright childish to me.  Vacuous.

This movie isn’t really about the violence at all, as much of it though there is.  It is, in essence, a movie about survival.  And the horror that comes AFTER you’ve survived — AFTER you’ve “witnessed.”  The torment.  The suffering.  And ultimately, the strength.   And god, hopefully:  the calm.

Absolutely astonishing.   Really.  Truly.  Astonishing.

And people?  In case I have not stressed this enough, LISTEN TO ME RIGHT NOW:  this is an UNRATED movie that contains HORRIFICALLY GRAPHIC VIOLENCE.  This is your warning.  I am serious.  You have been warned.  Children should not be around when you watch this.  I’m not even sure YOU should be around when you watch this.  I probably should not have been around when I watched this.  Except that, to be honest, I really needed to watch this.  Those in the know might understand why.  Hello, perspective.  Nice to meet you.

Check back next week for a review of another French horror movie (turns out they make a lot of them!), which I hope will be as good in some ways and not as good in others.

[Netflix me | Buy me]

Genre:  Horror, Foreign
Cast:  Mylène Jampanoï, Morjana Alaoui, Catherine Bégin, Robert Toupin, Patricia Tulasne


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6 Responses to “MOVIE: Martyrs (2008)”

  1. Liz Says:

    Wow! I don’t think I’ll ever have the courage to see this film. However, it does make me curious – I wonder what that says about me? Thanx, anyway, for telling us about this movie. I think what you need now is to “cleanse your mental palate” with a movie which is utterly stupid, comedic, or romantic – in other words, fluff! “The Lake House” was a lot better than I thought it would be; I found it both interesting and sweet. If you haven’t seen “Galaxy Quest” or “Dogma” yet, I think you’d find them both funny.

  2. megwood Says:

    I LOVE “Galaxy Quest”! Haven’t seen that in a really long time either. Great idea!! 🙂

  3. alisaj29 Says:

    Ok, I think I have this quote right, it’s been awhile, and I may have the changed it to what I think it should be, but here it goes……

    “My names Guy, I don’t even have a last name. I’m going to be the one that dies.!!!”

  4. Trip Says:

    GQ rocks! The skewering of sci-fi cliches and conventions are spot-on, especially the room on the ship that has no purpose but to serve as a dangerous obstacle course which must be traversed…in order to save the ship.

    The way Tony Shalhoub’s character reacts when he’s beamed from Earth to the friendly alien ship makes me laugh every time.

    By Grabthar’s hammer…you shall be avenged!

  5. Final Girl Says:

    I’ve been thinking an awful lot about this movie since I watched it a week or two ago, trying to sort out how I feel about it so I can write about it. I wonder if my initial impressions (much in line with yours) are accurate, or if I’m excusing and/or intellectualizing torture. I watched it alone, and at one point I said out loud “ENOUGH ALREADY!” because it was getting too difficult to take. I think the brutality does serve a “higher” purpose (or, again, am I just excusing it?), unlike other torture-laden films…but man, I don’t know if I needed to see that much. It makes Inside look like a cake-walk.

    All that said, even if I end up unable to reconcile my feelings on the last half hour or so…the first hour of this movie is undeniably AMAZING horror.

  6. megwood Says:

    Final Girl, I completely hear you on your reaction. I had the same conversation with myself during and after watching it too. I’m still, in fact, having that same conversation with myself.

    The thing is, as you say, in terms of movies about torture, I found this one dramatically more “higher purpose-y” than films like Hostel or any of the Saw films (even though I confess I loved the first Saw and recognized at least an attempt at thoughtyness in the second one).

    While I actually sort of bristle at the descriptor “torture porn,” if I had to apply that term to something Hostel would be the movie I applied it too. The torture in that film served no interesting or thoughtful purpose that I could reckon. It made no real statement about humanity that I could do anything productive with. It’s only point seemed to be that humanity can be incredibly fucking sick — a terrifying point, but not a terribly original or thought-provoking one.

    Martyrs, though, is a completely different animal to me. I felt like several interesting points were trying to be made, one of which happened to be a point that really resonated with me in large part because of something I’ve been going through personally of late. In Hostel, I think Roth was just trying to shock and alarm me. In Martyrs, though, I think Laugier was actually trying to make me think. To make me this uncomfortable, in fact, because it would make me really THINK.

    In that way, it sort of reminded me of Haneke’s Funny Games, except that in that case, Haneke was pretty open about the fact he was actively trying to make his audience feel SHAME for watching his movie (oh, the irony lost on you, Mr. Filmmaker. . .). Here, I think something more . . . I don’t know quite what. . . was going on. I didn’t check the DVD for an interview with the director (couldn’t handle more of that movie at the time), but now I’m sort of interested to go back and look for something like that. I’d like to hear what the makers of the film were thinking while they made it. What their opinion of the film’s purpose is. Did you happen to see or read anything like that?

    In any case, I guess what I’m saying is that I’m not sure what my final feelings about this film are. It’s possible I’ll never have any final feelings about it. I’m trying to embrace that fact, I guess, as another intriguing aspect of the film itself. But I’m really glad to hear from someone else who’s seen it and been unsettled enough by it not to be sure exactly what to say. Whew, not alone.

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