Director: Pascal Laugier
Stars: Mylene Jampanoi, Morjana Alaoui, Catherine Begin
One of the greatest films of all time. Profound, moving and utterly devastating
Martyrs is another French film that is one of the most effective and incredible films I have ever seen. It’s a rare thing now to get a horror film that truly shocks you, but Martyrs is one of these rarities. A film that you can’t un-see, and possibly one you wouldn’t want to either. Now, it would be easy to dismiss Martyrs as ‘torture-porn’ like Hostel, but Martyrs is so much deeper than that. The explicit and hugely upsetting torture sequences serve a very fine purpose to the mind-boggling narrative, and carefully constructed characters. You could also dismiss Martyrs as being exploitative, using gore for gore’s sake. However, Martyrs uses some of the most cringe-inducing gore I’ve ever seen, which dares you not to look away. Never has violence looked more nasty or pointless. You could even say that it’s a comment on how films glamorise violence. Martyrs shows violence for what it really is.
What makes Martyrs so extraordinary is its unpredictability and the way it plays on your expectations, in a similar way to The Cabin in the Woods, only not humorous in the slightest. The film changes direction at least four times, and two of these occasions are in the opening 10 minutes! The first time I saw Martyrs, I was in shock at the first plot twist, as it delivers the nasty surprise thick and fast like a Michael Haneke film. It defies all conventions, without ever feeling schizophrenic in tone. Even though Martyrs has so many plot twists, it never feels messy and it’s always focused on true narrative it’s trying to express. I’ve seen the film about six times now and it still manages to hit me hard with its visceral shocks.
Another great thing about Martyrs is its characters. The main protagonists feature on the front cover, both of them have a touching relationship as we see them through childhood. One of them, Lucie, is terribly haunted and a really tragic character who I felt immeasurably sympathetic towards. Her friend, is also almost like her carer who looks after Lucie, and also probably has feelings for her too. They’re both very deep characters who we can care for. Martyrs also features a memorable villain, who’s not in for long but offers a lasting and chilling presence, almost like Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs. However, I don’t want to spoil too much, because that would be such a shame.
The turning point for people will be just over half-way when Martyrs takes a seriously surprising and gut-punching turn that no one could see coming. There’s a really heart-wrenching scene when Anna makes a discovery which should be strictly kept under wraps. This scene is one of the hardest scenes to watch in the film, and is outrageously disturbing. I always say that films become masterpieces when they turn into more of an experience, such as Black Swan, but Martyrs transcends from being an experience to being a challenge. It’s a real challenge to make it through the final half hour of Martyrs, as things only become more disturbing.
The final half hour will be the decider about whether you liked Martyrs or not. You can say what you like about the last half hour but whatever you say, it will be the thing that you remember the most about it. I shall not spoil it, but it’s one of the saddest moments, actually no, it is the saddest moment I’ve seen on film. Every time I see it I almost cry which is something I don’t do on many occasions. It packs such a huge emotional punch, and also has this chills-inducing music that escalates your feelings. Every time I see it I just want to collapse into a ball and weep an ocean of tears. But I’m yet to try that. It really is what takes Martyrs from being already one of the best horror films ever to being legendary. If you feel no emotion in this final third then you’re either a robot or a psychopath.
I can understand why people hate these final moments, because I remember when I saw it a second time, I thought that it would be much better to have a Frontiers-type finale. However, then I realised that this is what Pascal Laugier would want us to have, and is probably what other film-makers would give us. It’s these final moments that are the biggest shock of the film and also are very relevant to the narrative as it allows us to go deeper into the characters. Suddenly the mystery is revealed and it’s a chilling one. Martyrs turns unbelievably deep and philosophical which will make you provoke more thought than you could imagine. The ending will make your jaw drop, as it’s a lot to take in. You could even say that the film takes another surprising turn. The final two shots are just the final nails in the coffin of your psyche. They’re the last visceral shocks, and the last shot is sure to haunt your dreams.
So it’s easy to call Martyrs ‘torture-porn’ but it seriously is anything but. Since when has ‘torture-porn’ made you think or feel as much emotion as Martyrs does. It’s hugely depressing, and leaves such an emotional impact. The directing alone makes Martyrs more than just an exploitation film! He’s created a moving masterpiece. It’s not easy to watch but the pay-off is immense. Martyrs is possibly the boldest and most powerful films I’ve ever seen. It’s truly unforgettable, and I could write a list of superlatives like I did with The Dark Knight, but not one of them would justify just how mesmerising this film is. It’s a true horror masterpiece. Martyrs is a difficult film to recommend, because it’s the opposite end of entertainment, but the pay-off is truly unlike any other. Witness it for yourself. It’s one of the best horror films ever made. Maybe even the best.