(dir. Pascal Laugier)
|The Weinstein Company|
A young woman who suffered abuse as child, tracks down her tormenters with the help of her friend, only to lead them both into suffering beyond anything they could have ever imagined.
Laugier’s film is one of the paramount examples of New French Extremism, delivering gore that goes well beyond entertainment, existentialism that goes beyond easy answers, and horror that leaves you more drained and sad than electrified. The first time I watched Martyrs I was unable to see beyond the inhuman levels of violence and cruelty, equating it to torture porn. Beyond that, the film made me psychically ill. This time around, that reaction hasn’t changed much and while the film is well-made, I still don’t like it. But the message running through the film, which I once thought was bullshit, had more impact this time around.
After a more straightforward first half, which deals with the ghosts of guilt, the film introduces a clinically cold society of antagonists who believe that by torturing girls and young women, and bringing them to brink of death, they will allow the women to transcend and witness “the other world” and confirm the existence of the afterlife. While the 40 minutes of constant brutality and degradation to bring this point home are not as necessary or genius as I think the film wants audiences to believe, there is a deeper allegory here. Essentially I saw this secret society’s mission as a kind of Holy War, one stripped of a specific religion or creed, but a war about faith being rewarded nonetheless. But instead of waging war against an army to prove right and power, all the violence and turmoil is placed upon the flesh of one woman—one woman who can tell them that their actions are justified and their search for meaning after death validated. Beyond the explicit torture inflicted on the “victim,” the film leaves us to question humanity’s quest for knowledge, their fear of death, and the existence of the afterlife. As a whole, these aspects are what define the horror genre, only they’ve been splintered into stories that we’re able to digest in relative comfort and ultimately enjoy. Martyrs offers no comfort or enjoyment, only cold questions.
Scare Factor: 5/5 Martyrs is horror distilled. I can’t say I enjoy it and I can’t say I recommend it to everyone, but I can say that I’ve never seen any film more horrific.