Director: Pascal Laugier
Staring: Morjana Alaoui, Mylène Jampanoï, Catherine Bégin, Isabelle Chasse, Robert Toupin, Patricia Tulasne, Juliette Gosselin, Xavier Dolan-Tadros
Plot: Fifteen years ago Lucie (Jampanoï) was abducted and tortured as a child. Now having tracked down her kidnappers she set’s out with her childhood friend Anna (Alaoui), who also carries her own abuse scars to get her revenge. It’s only when Anna arrives at the house does she start to question her friends actions before discovering a hatch in the basement.
Review: There is a memorable line in David Fincher’s classic thriller “Seven” (1995) uttered by a doctor having who having examined the Sloth victim proclaims
“He’s experienced about as much pain and suffering as anyone I’ve encountered, give or take, and he still has Hell to look forward to.”
And this was the line which came to mind as the end credits rolled on this film as I was left reeling and still unable to comprehend what it was that I had just watched, much less how I was going to write about it. “Matyrs” is anything but a straightforward movie and it is certainly one best going into blind, so once again this is you getting off point for those wishing to experience the film with all its shocks intact, as potential spoilers lye ahead.
Opening with Lucie as a young girl bloodied and running terrified through a derelict industrial estate, Director Laugier wastes zero time in establishing a mood for what is essentially the rest of the film, as Laugier then establishes exactly what she has been though via a mixture of documentary footage taken by the team sent to investigate, aswell as snippets of her therapy which in turn establishes her friendship with Anna and the strong bond that they two girls share, growing out of their status as abuse survivors. Still this is merely the warm up for what is to follow, as Laugier shifts gear and slams on the gas, as the film now becomes an unrelenting nightmare of visceral horror and violence.
Shot almost like two movies cut together, the first half is a pure home invasion / revenge thriller as the now grown up Lucie breaks into what would to be your typical suburban household, as they sit down to breakfast quickly unloading shotgun shells into the family without even any attempt at an introduction or welcome. It’s in the aftermath of this savage attack that Anna re-enters the story, while Lucie seems to be quickly losing her grip on reality having visions of a Lovecraftian style monster which frequently attacks her causing her to mutilate herself as she tries to defend herself. It’s also at this point that Anna begins to also have doubts about her friends sanity, let alone if she has even found the people who had abducted her, especially when the house shows no signs of either of the parents being capable of the acts inflicted upon Lucie as a child. Still it’s the discovery of a mysterious hatch in the basement which marks the start of what could essentially be classed as the second film which is almost a polar opposite of the first half as gone are the frantic cuts and shooting from the hips, to be replaced by tightly framed shots and an almost clinical approach to the screen violence, as the hatch proves to be an almost metaphorical for the secrets the parents have seemingly hidden from their children, continuing normal family life while hiding the real horrors in the basement. Now if you have made it this far into the film and wondered what all the fuss was about, you should perhaps not speak so soon, as it’s the halfway mark were Laugier chooses to really unleash the demons on his audience, as he redefines what unrelenting horror which are only unleashed once the hatch is opened.
Despite being heavy on torture especially for the second half of the film and shocking imagery, “Martyrs” refuses to have the clumsy “Torture Porn” label attached to it, as the savagery on display here isn’t played with any sense of fun, but rather approached with a clinical and sterile approach, as the camera largely plays witness to the acts on offer, only occasionally allowing itself the luxury of a more artsy shot or two including a memorable close up of a dilated iris which in turn morphs into a 2001 Esq. Lightshow to help highlight the deteriorating mental state of the sufferer. Still once the film moves into it’s brutal second half, it is from here that it becomes more a test of endurance and as well as your ability to keep your lunch down and while other films have certainly pushed the boundaries further in terms of gore, but it is still none the more pleasant to sit through, to find out the big answer to what is actually going on and one that seems to divide audience reaction as to if it was worth the trek through hell to find out the reasons behind everything you have just witnessed, especially with Laugier failing in many ways to explore the titular theory perhaps as indepth as some would like or even explain it better to the less well read viewer.
The gore on display here is creative to say the least, with bodies being flung across the room by shotgun blasts to the chest and even a flaying are just two things on the menu, though for the hardened gore hounds nothing that they probably won’t have seen before, despite cries of “The most Violent movie ever made” from the conservative broadsheet reading crowd, but what’s on offer here, easily pales when compared to the likes of “Cannibal Holocaust” (1980) or even more recent releases such as “Frontier(s)” (2007) which certainly pushed the boundaries further and here Laugier seemingly more interested to approach the screen violence with the an unflinching lense similar that used by Michael Haneke for “Funny Games” (1997) were violence was used as part of his exploration of media violence, though it would seem that Laugier isn’t trying to explore such themes, but rather adopting a similar style to ramp up intensity while ensuring that he doesn’t let up on the pressure for a moment. Needless to say as someone who is disgusted by domestic violence, towards the end of the film it became especially tough watching what is essentially a succession of scenes were one of the characters is repeatedly beaten over and over, while being further proof as to why I no longer talk to my parents about the films I review here.
While certainly not the easiest of films to recommend based on the levels of violence and grim subject matter, yet it’s strangely fascinating and gripping at the same time, though the true power will no doubt hit you after the end credits have run, as it’s only then that you mind will find the time to churn over what you have just watched, as Laugier has here created one of the most shocking yet highly original films I have seen in along while, though one to certainly approach with caution.