Extreme world horror is becoming more and more popular with the western world becoming desensitized to violence. Child abuse is reported on the news daily, as is domestic violence, rape and murder. Is it any wonder we turn to film to get away from the real life horrors going on daily. France again has used all these nasty real horrors to their advantage to create realistic and horrific cinema that makes us need a bath afterwards. Martyrs is the first film to do this to me.
Martyrs is a film I heard a lot about before eventually getting the opportunity to watch. I knew from reviews and chatter in horror forums that I was going to go into something horrific and would be taking on something that even I questioned if I was ready for.
Martyrs begins with a young girl, Lucie, of around 12 years old escaping from a warehouse wearing a filthy vest top, knickers and covered in dirt and blood screaming with terror and relief. She is taken to an orphanage where she is taken under the wing of Ana where she is taken care of. Lucie is haunted by something monstrous and terrifying which physically harms her as well as mentally torturing her. Later on, when Lucie and Ana are adults Lucie takes revenge on the people who hurt her in a bloody and shocking manner. Nobody is spared. Still haunted by the mysterious creature, which frankly, is a grotesque work of sfx art. Its only in the final act of the film we see what Lucie was subjected to and it's then the film take the most brutal and sinister turn.
To say Martyrs is down beat is an understatement. Nothing in this film brings any rays of light, no relief from the tension. Things just get worse and worse. The story starts out as a simple revenge plot we're all familiar with but as things progress you just know nothing will work out well in the end. No happy endings here and as the final part of the movie turns into an exercise in endurance, it could have been easy for the film to get boring and tedious as the violence against one of the characters gets progressively worse but the story is enough to prevent this film from becoming just another Hostel. For me, it wasn't the violence that was difficult but the claustrophobia of the entire film taking place in just a handful of settings with much of the final half an hour being in a dark and dingy cell. I felt dirty watching and I felt a desperate need to make the violence stop. I wanted to reach into the TV and stop it from happening! The director does a great job of drawing us in enough to feel almost like we are taking part but sitting and watching. The ending with undoubtedly have you questioning for days after watching.
One thing that is overwhelming in the film is the score. The music is slow, upsetting and sickly. It adds to the nihilistic feeling beautifully. Filmed almost like it's in first person. Like you are following their every move. The actresses are beautiful and play their parts with conviction. The effects in martyrs are scarily real. The creature that haunts Lucie is so realistic, it's hard to tell if it's real or imaginary. whether we are watching one woman driven crazy for the hell she has lived with or a classic vengeful ghost story reminiscent of Japanese supernatural horrors. It's this ability to blur lines that makes the film so successful.
One thing I can say for sure, Martyrs is the most difficult film I've ever sat through. I have done it twice and it wasn't any easier second time round. Infact, it was harder. This film for me is the best of the bunch in the French new wave category.