Add Pascal Laugier to the list of France’s new wave of horror directors destined for Hollywood. Laugier has just secured the director’s seat for the big budget remake of HELLRAISER due to hit our screens in 2011, and I can’t help feeling that MARTYRS provides the perfect springboard.
I caught MARTYRS earlier on in the year at a screening in Brighton, and was totally unprepared for the high levels of graphic violence that the film presented. The film has, unsurprisingly, split its audiences, many complaining that the script pay-off does not justify such extreme bloodletting. Whilst many feel that its film’s repetitive and undoubtedly manipulative scenes of torture accurately convey the horrors endured by its protagonists and are essential to the film’s success.
MARTYRS is ostensibly a mystery suspense that begins with young Lucie (Mylène Jampanoï), half-naked and in a catatonic-like state wandering the countryside. When the French police pick her up and interview her, she is unable to tell them details of her ordeal, though initially it appeared as if she has been a victim of sex attack. Initial medical examinations show that she has not been sexually assaulted. The police quickly determine the place of her incarceration as an old slaughterhouse, but a search of the premises fails to yield any clues about her suffering or why she was abducted in the first place.
Fifteen years later, the young girl has grown into a beautiful woman who accompanied by Anna (Morjana Alaoui), another victim of abuse whom she befriended whilst in rehabilitation, sets out to avenge her dark past. To reveal more of the plot would be to diminish one’s appreciation of the film’s narrative, which takes the viewer on a roller-coaster ride of ever increasing violent spectacles leading to the film’s last minute revelations.
MARTYRS proves a rather unsettling experience heightened by what some have construed as misogynistic treatment of its female victims. There’s gore aplenty along the way as a number of victims meet violent ends before the film serves up its rather splendid ending.
Special praise must go to the films two young leads, Morjana Alaoui and Mylène Jampanoï, whose screaming and crying, in what must have been an emotionally draining shoot, recalls Marilyn Burns turn from THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE.
With its kinetic camerawork, rapid cutting and minimal use of exposition, the film moves along like an express train leaving little time for dialogue, which works in the film’s favour. When the movie briefly switches its attentions to the captors and their reasons for committing atrocities the audience is given little respite from the horrors, so when Laugier serves up his denouement, we have had little time to ruminate on the reasons behind the antagonists reasons for such carnage, so the pay-off works. Though repeated viewings of MARTYRS appear a little diluted of the horror experienced first time around, a second viewing will allow the viewer to appreciate some of the finer aspects of the film. It’s special effects are horrifyingly realistic and it’s a great shame that their creator Benoît Lestang committed suicide a few weeks before the movie started to receive its controversial notices.
It’s rare for a film to shock nowadays and MARTYRS is to be congratulated for raising the stakes in what looks like a very competitive arena for transgressive filmmaking today.
Carl T. Ford
Directed by Pascal Laugier
French language (English Subtitles)/ France / 2008 / 95 minutes / Colour
Region 2 / PAL
An Optimum Home Entertainment Release
Region 2 (UK)
DVD release date 25th May 2009