Martyrs (2008)

OCTOBER 20, 2008


I was bummed that the scheduling of Screamfest would prevent me from seeing Martyrs with a big crowd, because everything I had heard about the movie concerned its public reaction. I knew nothing about the plot (I knew it was survival horror, that’s about it), but everyone who had seen it had a lot to say about how they FELT about it, or how the crowd was left stunned and silent. Since Horror Movie A Day began as a way of “discussing” horror movies with people, I thought it would be a good one to sit around and discuss with some of the folks who I had been sitting in the dark with for the entire week. But alas, I had to get to the New Bev. The Bev above all.

Luckily, a friend had a PAL import DVD, so I was able to at least watch the movie while opinions were still fresh in the mind of Screamfest attendees, so I hope a few chime in with how they felt.

Personally, I’m sort of on the fence. I loved the batshit opening, which seemed to combine French survival horror (they still do it better than anyone!) with Asian hyper-violence and even a goddamn monster straight out of Lovecraft. But, like anyone will tell you, it’s hardly a fun film to watch, and it’s ultimately sort of numbing, particularly the 3rd act, which is little more than a girl being smacked around while chained to a chair. And you may have noticed the peculiar genre tag (is this the first film to combine these subgenres?), a story element that is odd in that it feels out of nowhere but at the same time, gives the film an actual plot. Without it, it would be just as worthless a film as Broken. However, its execution is far from perfect, so again – I’m on the fence.

In a way, the film would make a good companion piece to Funny Games. In that film, we are sort of mocked for “wanting” to see this sort of violence, and yet we never really see any. In this one, once we get to the point where we want it to stop (and it seems that it will), it becomes, if anything, more intense. By the 70 minute mark, I contemplated shutting the film off; not because I hated it, but because I realized the window was open and the film had become an almost nonstop series of shrieking and the obvious sounds of a woman being abused.

And then there’s the conclusion, which is strangely poetic and horrifying all at once. The point of the film is made (sort of) clear – I won’t spoil it here since the film hasn’t really been released here yet – and then it just ends. Some hate the lack of a firm conclusion, but I didn’t mind it much. It’s like the ending of No Country For Old Men – the point of the film is in the title, and thus the traditional wrapping up of the “story” isn’t the priority.

Gore nuts will definitely love the film. Visceral shotgun blasts, a metal plate being ripped off of someone’s scalp, a woman skinned alive, throat slashing.... if there was ever a film that could appeal to both teenage wannabe Savinis and 40 year old horror “scholars”, it would definitely be this. Speaking of the gore - I would definitely recommend going in blind to this one – something that occurs early on is the biggest shock of the film, and I suspect it is something that would be given away in any plot synopsis.

So, I dunno. I can’t exactly say it’s on my top 10 list, but it’s certainly a film that demands a viewing from intelligent horror fans. Had the “old woman” character been weaved into the narrative in a better fashion, I’d probably give the film a higher rating. Also, while its violence is shocking, it’s not suspenseful in the manner that an equally “intense” film like Inside is, which makes a 2nd viewing something I would never want to consider. But if you’re a woman-hating gorehound who loves French dialogue and a sound mix that may result in your arrest, I wholeheartedly recommend Martyrs!

What say you?


  1. Apparently, it's not a French horror film unless a woman gets smacked around.

    I haven't seen Inside, though from what I've read on BD there's plenty of smacking to be had; last night while cleaning up came across my DVD of Frontier(s). There's a pretty lengthy scene towards the end of that where the lead is beaten but hard. But since French Horror owes as much, if not more, to 70s exploitation as it does to 80s slashers, I guess this is just part of the genre. It's fuckin' hard to take though. Thanks for the heads up.

    I bought Frontier(s) after seeing the trailer and it just looked like the most bananas movie I could imagine. Obviously it wasn't, but it's still pretty slick. And the French rip off, well, everyone like no one else. Then I saw the leaked full trailer for this and it looked like the most bananas movie I could imagine...

  2. I liked this movie, although it could have been better.
    With a wicked first half it's really hard to keep that kind of crazy momentum going.
    I agree with you about the second half being a little too long.

    anyways, I enjoyed it for it's fuckupedness.

  3. I finally saw this movie, so I can fully read and comment on your review. I was beginning to feel like I was the only one that wasn't completely blown away by this "masterpiece" of a film. I was into the first half of it or so, but the third act definitely had me wanting it to end soon with its monotony. It left me with a horrible feeling and its nihilism lacks redemptive value, so its a tough one to get through. I was expecting a kick-ass revenge story with some twists on the sub-genre, but I got overintellectualized torture.

  4. Paula and I watched it yesterday, and we didnt really like it. Agreed, the first act was "batshit", as you said, and fun to watc. But then it just reached a point when we were done with it. Wanted to turn it off, but we figured we had come this far so we may as well finish it. I had been hearing so many great things about this movie, I felt like i must not be getting something since I didnt care for it. Oh well.

  5. I think this is one of the most brilliant horror movies made concerning the subject of torture. Films like Hostel are, for the most part, gore for gore's sake. This movie actually had a method to its madness (albeit a fucked up one). I can't imagine that the ending didn't totally piss of some religious types. And I think that it helps to think of this film in that way a little. To be so enthralled by the concept of an afterlife that you are willing to prove its existence at any cost.

    Definitely slow moving in some parts but altogether, its a brilliant film. Totally gut punching and it turns you on your head. What a good horror movie should do.

  6. Too much crap going on in this. Lose the embodiment of the crazy lady in that one girls mind. Lose the leftover crazy girl. Add more of the story about the true purpose of the project, this was not really a twist as the torture is still torture no matter how you slice it. And did the old lady want to go to Heaven or was disappointed in what she heard was there. I have to tell you, if there is a God, there is no way he would let people cheat like this. He would be sittin there with a big middle finger for whoever was going to be looking in.

  7. I would recommend that if anyone is going to watch this movie, pretend like it is a horror "short" and watch the first 45 or so minutes and then turn it off. First half was awesome, second half was almost unbearable.

  8. yeah the second half was kind of silly. but aleast it's better then some of the shit out there right now! worth a look.

  9. Comments I've read from the director/writer Pascal Laugier are really interesting. He said the reason the movie seems to have 3 parts and is a hybrid of different horror movie types was that he made the movie for horror movie fans and didn't want to allow us to get settled into the movie and know what to expect. He wanted to keep the hardcore horror movie fan on his toes. For me it worked great. I had no idea the movie was going to make the turns it did or end it where it did when it started. He kept me enthralled and I felt disgusted with myself for watching it afterwards which to me is excellent horror. I both love this movie and despise. I can't wait to watch it again.

  10. God, when I close my eyes I can still see that poor skinless bitch roasting under the heat at the end...

  11. I'm a woman who loves horror movies partly because it's almost always a final girl instead of a final boy, which is fun because it allows women to see themselves as ass kicking characters instead of just wives, mothers, or Kate Hudson. But this movie really crossed the line into full blown misogyny, and I hope that another movie doesn't come along to outdo it. This movie does its job in that it's truly horrifying, but lots of movies--super gorey ones included--are horrifying without singling out young, defenseless women as the victims.

    1. The singling out of women is explained in-plot. Rather than being misogyistic, it stems from women being stronger. If that's sexist, then so is the fact that (as you point out) most horror movies have a final girl, not a final boy.

  12. I heard about this when Final Girl implied it was one of her favorites. Then, I watched it last night. I'm pretty sure I loved this film. I'm so glad I knew nothing about it going in, because its greatest strength was its ability to shake up the viewer's expectations by turning into a completely different horror genre. It went from torture, to ghost, to shock/slasher, to dementia, to ghost, to dementia, to survival, to suicide, to (the most unpleasant torture ever put to film) torture, to mad scientist, to religious/scientific head fuck. That kind of combination, handled so well in a single movie is very rare. When the audience is wondering if the "ghost" haunting the torture victim, it is finally revealed that the ghost is merely the result of extreme dementia by some extremely clever camera work involving self mutilation. The 3rd act torture sequence was indeed repugnant and I hated watching it. The defense for it is that it sets up the payoff of the film. That makes sense, but I still feel they could of done it in about half the time. Maybe the filmmakers were attempting to give the audience a sense of martyrdom but numbing us to the point where we share the epiphany.

    I thought it was great when the turban lady blows her own head off. Was she protecting her colleagues from the knowledge, or keeping it all to herself? I think it's an interesting question to contemplate.

  13. Simply brilliant horror movie though sometimes painful to watch. Martyrs is full of original scenes (such as one with shotgun and bed) and so intense. Also, the point is great. Again we see how humans are nothing more than animals.

  14. Maybe im just jaded, but the final act hardly affected me. I mean it was pretty terrible and definitely packed quite a punch, but it just didn’t feel real to me and the movie prepares an observant viewer for what could happen so when it does happen its not as shocking. Nowhere near as unsettling as something like August Underground or Cannibal Holocaust.

    As far as the ending goes, I really liked it! What I got from it was that the group doing the torture believed in an afterlife but were not Christian (or apparently any religion, as I don't think too many religions would condone this)), and the unsaid revelation was that Christian God and afterlife were real. So innocent Anna was at peace because she knew that eternal life and peace were at hand, while all the torturers had coming was punishment for the terrible things they've done.

    Thats just my take, but I really like that the movie had an ending that could be interpreted different ways.

  15. "But if you’re a woman-hating gorehound who loves French dialogue and a sound mix that may result in your arrest, I wholeheartedly recommend Martyrs!"

    I usually really like your reviews, but you really disgusted me with this one. I can't believe that you made "woman-hater" a valid description for a movie fan--and provided a recommendation for them.

  16. I thought the third act with the relentless, dulling torture was very, very clever. It almost puts you into Anna's mindset of "when is it going to end, when are they going to stop dragging this out and when is it going to be complete enough to reach a conclusion?". I'm fairly sure that was actually the point of the emphasis on that scene/scenes.


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