Morjana Alaoui as Anna
MylÃ¨ne JampanoÃ¯ as Lucie
Catherine BÃ©gin as Mademoiselle
Robert Toupin as Le pÃ¨re
Patricia Tulasne as La mÃ¨re
Juliette Gosselin as Marie
Xavier Dolan-Tadros as Antoine
Isabelle Chasse as La CrÃ©ature
Directed by Pascal Laugier
Marketed as one of the most brutal and disturbing horror films ever made, Martyrs has a lot to live up to. Unfortunately, while it certainly lives up to its promise of depictions of unflinching violence, as a horror movie taken on its own it falls a great deal short of anything spectacular.
Martyrs begins with a traumatized-looking girl breaking into a family home and dispatching each family member with a shotgun in graphic detail. She justifies this as a revenge mission against this family as they had supposedly held her captive and tortured her years before. She is also accompanied by her best friend who decides to explore the house, eventually finding a network of rooms underground and in the process discovering a frail girl with a metal mask bolted into her head. From then on the story takes a baffling switch in plot and the audience is subjected to scene after scene of incomprehensible violence all supposedly reinforced with an intended theory or message.
The press for this film has been split entirely down the middle, in that it's the cinematic equivalent of Marmite â€“ you either love it or hate it. Many reviewers fall into the â€˜hate it' category due to their reaction to the increasingly disgusting scenes of violence but that is by no means the reason that this reviewer dislikes the film. If a film uses graphic violence to serve its story this is acceptable (much like similar French entry Switchblade Romance), but when it serves as nothing other than to shock it surely must be deemed pointless.
Of course, director and writer Pascal Laugier intends not to merely shock, for he believes that he has created a reason for the carnage. It is just unfortunate that this supposed reason appears to pop into the film half way, as though he realized that he did indeed need a basis for the relentless disgusting imagery and created it merely as an afterthought. It is this sudden change in tone of the film halfway that ultimately causes it to lose its effectiveness, for the beginning is certainly promising. It is almost as if Martyrs consists of two films, one an interesting revenge-type horror and the other, a suddenly imagined mish-mash of violence and pretentious babbling that serves only as a showcase to see how far a film can go to offend or shock. Upon hearing the director talk about his film, it was also revealed that he did indeed not have an ending in sight when he began writing Martyrs and that it was conceived at a later date, thus the sudden shift in tone of the film. This confirmed my fears - it's the filmic version of Lost, it was being made up as it went along.
Aside from the convoluted plot, the second half of the film is also downright hard to endure. Not because of the violence, but because of how utterly boring and repetitive it is. If seeing a woman get repeatedly punched in the face by a huge man for ten minutes straight sounds appealing, then this is the film for you. Whether or not Laugier was aiming to put the viewer through some sort of mental torture to echo the suffering of the characters is unclear, either way the constant stream of needless brutality is tremendously tedious. Many will disagree and claim the film is an important piece of filmmaking and that it takes the viewer to places never before committed to celluloid, but the endless amount of positive praise this film has garnered is surely a case of bandwagon-jumping. Just because a film is different from the mainstream and is not afraid to push the boundaries, doesn't mean it's automatically a work of art. You wouldn't call Freddy Got Fingered a work of comedic genius, and that certainly pushed the boundaries of what's acceptable on-screen.
On the positive side, the performances are all proficient, it is competently shot and the effects work is stellar, but the phrase "polishing a turd" certainly comes to mind. However, these strengths do nothing to make the film of any true worth and just serve to give the critics justification in praising the film. Had it been a home-grown low budgeter, I'm sure it would have met with less than favorable reviews. Much of the praise has been concerned with the ending and overall reason behind the film, and to the easily-pleased it serves as a fitting conclusion, but to anyone wanting real substance then it merely results undeveloped and definitely does not justify the sheer amount of brutality that precedes it.
Overall, a massive disappointment that shocks and appals not through its graphic depictions of violence (Hostel was worse), but through its empty theory, relentlessly dull and repetitive sequences, and its slap-dash lack of thought with regards to its script. Of course many will disagree with this review and proclaim the film a benchmark in horror-themed cinema, but hopefully there will be those who agree with how unremarkable and offensive Martyrs really is and how far away it is from that which it strives to be.