Just the mere notion that something coming out in this era of horror that pushes people to "run from theatres vomiting" is enough to shake me to my core. It goes without saying, that it's a rare commodity nowadays. Gore and the gore film have all but flooded the market, usually with very little success. So, to await the release of what alot of folks in horror circles were referring to as one of the most brutal films they've ever seen, had me chomping at the bit. The wait was totally worth it, as Martyrs lived up to all the expectations I had.
"Martyrs" is a French film that literally transcends horror into an esoteric commentary on faith, humanity, and the strength of the human spirit. The film's scariest moments derive from how intensely your emotions get jerked back and forth. Your sympathies for the characters are somewhat confusing, considering some of the horrible atrocities they commit. But compared with the violence from their past, which brought them to this point, it's not entirely out of the question.
The film begins with a young girl, who we come to know as Lucie, running through the streets half naked, clearly from a place she never wanted to be. Young Lucie has ecscaped her torturers and taken into custody. Meanwhile, there is no sign of the ones who did the damage. She is taken into custody by a halfway house. The years of torment have completely dibilitated Lucie, making her unresponsive to any therapy. The only sign of life she shows is her bond with another little girl named Anna. Anna is the only person Lucie can connect with: She's the only person who can penetrate the dense wall of mental illness that Lucie has built. She sees things (namely, a dead girl) that prod and "attack" her. In short, Lucie is completely fucked and Anna is her only connection to true emotion.
We're lead to a 15 year cut-ahead of which leads to some VERY abrupt and realistic violence. Lucie has vowed to find the ones who damaged her and exact her revenge. Anna remains by Lucie's side throughout this entire ordeal which results in Anna becoming a victim of this same experiment that destroyed whoever Lucie once was. I use the word experiment because we find out that Lucie wasn't tortured for the sake of being brutalized. No, it was a test of human endurance, to find out what transfiguration truly is and when/how it happens. Granted, I'm giving you a very abbreviated version of a much more involved story (while trying to not give you all the evidence), but you can see it's heavy.
Not many films have the ability to emotionally exhaust their viewer, particular genre flicks. Generally, you run the same race you always run, with a predictable (but comfortable) outcome. Suffered a little, but got through it. Writer/Director Pascal Laugier doesn't work on that wave length. He'd rather exercise his demons through characters with more flaws than a fire-burnt home. Protagonist and antagonist are blurred and the ideas of good and bad are thrown out the window. And if you step away from it all, that makes sense: If everything you knew was completely fucked and you knew the outcome was grim regardless, would you toss it all into the sea, or suffer for your dignity? If that seems intense, it's because it is. Laugier was able to do what very few before him have done and that is to say, explode out of the gate with such ferocity, he may never be able to duplicate that intensity. It brings to mind what happen to guys like Tobe Hooper or Ruggero Deodato. They made films that so explicitly played on open nerves, that anything else they would put out after that was a letdown. And though with as much potential as I see in him (more than any other filmmaker in the last 5 years) making such a potent, ornate film, like Martyrs, can be fatal. Don't let this seem misleading-I mean all of this as a compliment. Martyrs gave me that same heart-wrenching feeling I had when seeing some of my favorite films ever made. It also gave me that overwhelming, uneasiness that only a true horror flick can give. Not leaving any stone unturned, but you don't leave feeling good. You leave feeling, dirty, sticky, and unkempt. Just how I like it.
Now, I don't want to paint a picture of how this film is draped in existentialism and what if's and no blood and guts. Quite the contrary, there's tons of the red stuff! The effects on this film were some of the best I've seen in ages. Benoit LeStang (whom I understand took his own life after this film wrapped) clearly had a knack for very visceral, realistic make-up effects. I've never seen someone who is meant to look as a victim of a beating ACTUALLY look like one. Some of these jobs were almost too convincing. That's a testament to the guy's work. It's what made legends of the notorious films made by the aforementioned directors. Being that torture porn is en vogue, to see a film that would qualify for that title move well beyond that into a memorable, intense film, shows promise for the genre as a whole.
Nothing I can say is going to really tell you how much I truly enjoyed this film. Based on what I know of films coming out over the remainder of the year, I doubt anything will trump this from my top spot. It has an unmistakable style that combines visceral, realistic violence with a noticeably, artistic French look and pace. Over the last two years, France has birthed some brutal stuff (Inside, Frontier(s) just to name a few) and Martyrs is the new king of the heap. Once it kicks in, it doesn't let up and whips you into allegiance of it's story. I can't in good conscience, recommend this as a film for the casual moviegoer. I can, however, tell you that if you are moved by intense emotional rides coupled with very realistic violence, please, PLEASE watch Martyrs...Viva La France!!!!