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July 12th, 2009 by unkle lancifer · 8 Comments

I had to see MARTYRS since everyone seemed to be talking about it. The problem was, I was just not in the mood. I know the French have been kicking ass lately in the horror arena, but lately I have been more keen on the goofy spitball fun of a film like DRAG ME TO HELL rather than the drag me through the mud endurance test of something like FRONTIER(S). I mean I loved FRONTIER(S), but it left me covered with a layer of mental soap scum that even OXI CLEAN could not remove. From what I had heard about MARTYRS it was not exactly TEEN WITCH. Horror cred be damned, when I was honest with myself, I thought I’d rather be hanging out in Stars Hollow than chained to a metal chair in an abandoned warehouse being spoon-fed gruel for two hours.

Much of that apprehension was lifted in an introduction to the film available on the DVD where director PASCAL LAUGIER invited me to hate his movie as much as I liked, and that I should feel free to hate him on a personal level too. When he added that he was not so sure if he liked the movie or himself either, I was putty in his hands. (I just can’t resist self effacement, like letter writing and macramé, it’s a dead art. ) Plus, PASCAL was standing in front of what appeared to be his impressive DVD library (size does matter); I think I’ve found my new BFF! When can I come over?

So as it turns out my new pal, that little rascal PASCAL, made a very powerful movie that yours truly happily did not enjoy in the least! I kept flashing back to my older brother’s non-hilarious routine of holding my head under water in the family swimming pool until I was nearly dead. MARTYRS is just merciless. I wanted to turn it off a million times but I couldn’t. It’s absolute torture, plain and simple, sparked by moments of serene beauty and peace. It’s exactly the horrible, yet gratifying experience I was afraid it was going to be. Good job PASCAL, you nut!

Set up like a FRANCIS BACON triptych, the first part is a nasty revenge flick, the second, psychological horror (some great stuff about nursing your own demons there) and the third part is…wholly crap… I dunno, TURISTAS interpreted by TARKOVSKY? All I know is that it made my little head hurt. Some complain that the film’s conclusion reads like an empty afterthought to justify its ape shit violence, but I disagree. I think the intention was to put the viewer through a similar spirit-breaking desensitizing ordeal as the film’s protagonists. PASCAL then brilliantly leaves some empty canvas for the viewer to paint themselves (a literal white space in one instance). Are you a victim to the film’s violence and see nothing, or are you a MARTYR who sees more?

MARTYRS is about as much fun as a baby on an airplane, but as it forces you to think about the horror of human cruelty. It also takes time to honor the endurance of those who suffer and to salve their wounds. When in the heart of its bleakest moment a character conjures the voice of a dead loved one to spur her further on, it sprouts a rose in a field of manure whose fragrance over powers all. Like a sonnet written with a blood-soaked mop or a lullaby with crashing symbol accompaniment, MARTYRS’ harsh delivery might be a hurdle for some, but there is something here beyond the savagery. Scratching off the upper layer of deceptive sadism will reveal a film with a healthy fascination with the choices one makes in response to hardship and the very human question of whether it is all worth it. PASCAL, consider me a reluctant convert.

Tags: Trauma Au Courant

8 responses so far ↓

  • 1 mamamiasweetpeachesNo Gravatar // Jul 13, 2009 at 9:00 am

    After months of hearing hype and hoopla sorrounding this movie I finally got to rent it and I must say I was sorely disappointed. I hated it! (And okay, I guess I hate the director too. And everyone else involoved in it!) But maybe thats because I prefer suspense to watching people getting slapped around and fed gruel. The last movie I enjoyed with slap around and gruel was the musical OLIVER!

  • 2 micksterNo Gravatar // Jul 13, 2009 at 9:32 am

    Hey Unkle L, Your older brother and my older brother must have attended the same school of younger sibling torture!

  • 3 eskimoposhNo Gravatar // Jul 14, 2009 at 9:03 am

    I’m definitely getting damn sick of all these torture films. Everytime my wife and I rent this stuff we always look at eachother and ask, “what are they going to try and do next???” Originality has flown out the window, and each new ‘torture flick’ that comes out seems to try and push the envelope further and further ( I bet some of these directors have secret fantasies to go all out and just make pure snuff). The last dozen torture flicks that i’ve seen are like SAW remakes. IT HAS BEEN DONE! The exact same thing happened after Alien (by far the BEST horror film of all time) came out….every other science fiction movie saw a group of space commuters or deep sea scientists battle an unknown entity. IT HAS BEEN DONE!

    I’m starving for another classic!!!!!! Give me something to obsess over!!!!!

  • 4 unkle lanciferNo Gravatar // Jul 14, 2009 at 9:57 am

    Eskimoposh, I feel you on the torture flick front. Me and A.J tried to watch MUM AND DAD which has been getting good write-ups lately and we only got about twenty minutes in before turning it off.
    (I think we were more afraid of the inherent redundancy than anything else) MARTYRS does have a larger vision up it’s sleeve than something like SAW but it really it is a difficult climb to get there.

    Mama, Rumors circulate that a musical, OLIVER-inspired song about gruel was edited out of MARTYRS at the last minute!

    Mickster, three words: Indian. rope. burn.

  • 5 RalphusNo Gravatar // Jul 14, 2009 at 10:54 am

    Wow Unk, Ive gotta say this review really entices me to see this movie. I can dig the french. Although being force fed the overly torturous thing does start to smell like stale diapers. Oh and nice choice of shots too.

  • 6 Blue SevenNo Gravatar // Jul 14, 2009 at 6:50 pm

    Martyrs was pretty damn filthy. I guess it made sense after a fashion, but I felt pretty burnt out by the time it was over. Can’t say it was great or anything.

    Don’t know what it is about the torture/fish out of water genre that makes me keep coming back for more. Eden Lake was affecting, I never finished watching Frontiers, Ils was meh and its quasi-remake The Strangers was enjoyable… just saw Farmhouse and while it is most certainly More Of The Same, I really liked the ending. Mum and Dad? Jeez…looks like I might have to check it out…thanks for nothing, Unk!

  • 7 Blue SevenNo Gravatar // Jul 14, 2009 at 6:56 pm

    …not to mention Calvaire, the Hostels, Funny Games, Men Behind the Sun, The Devil’s Rejects, and the seemingly universally loathed Saw movies, all of which I liked. Probably has something to do with (in addition to bad taste, I’m sure) considering Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre to be “by far the BEST horror film of all time”…

  • 8 gilligNo Gravatar // Jul 14, 2009 at 7:39 pm

    I, for one, dislike those ‘torture porn’ flicks as much as every other discerning viewer. Martyrs is not one of those films. Those that think it is missed the whole point at the end and the subtle nuances that occurred prior to that. I can’t write it up any better than Unk did so if that doesn’t compel you to see this film, I recommend avoiding it. It is definitely not for everyone.

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