Pascal Laugier who directed House of Voices (2004) and The Tall Man (2012) wrote and took to the camera in 2008 for this French new wave horror film, mixing extreme violence with the concept of reaching total enlightenment through brutal means. A director with a vivid style, slick and bursting with strong imagery, Laugier does his best work here with Martyrs.
After being kidnapped and experiencing extensive torture at the hands of her abductors, Lucie escapes from their grasp. We move forward fifteen years and see that Lucie has, in her mind, found the couple responsible for the terrible ordeal she suffered a decade and a half earlier. Taking her childhood friend, Anna, along with her, Lucie confronts those responsible. The film then almost splits into two, becoming a two-act experience. The delusions and internal madness of Lucie begins to manifest and we question whether or not her internal agony is finding a place as an external existence. Anna, as the story proceeds, finds herself experiencing her own nightmare as the second act pulls us into a hideous concept of martyrdom being attempted through a series of contemptuous experiments of torture.
To go further into the storyline would be a detriment to the enjoyment of a person seeing the film for the first time, so I won’t. It’s shocking, it incites interpretation, and it punches you right in the nose with the way it confronts its themes. I love that about Martrys. Unrelenting, unapologetic and downright twisted.
Morjana Alaoui (Special Forces) as Anna, and Mylene Jampanoi (Cavalcade) as Lucie, were truly remarkable in their roles. Alaoui, as Anna, going through a variety of emotions as she experiences these terrible moments, is incredible, emoting such agony in some instants, yet able to convey helplessness in the next, she is the best thing about this film and her performance remains one of the best I’ve seen in a recent horror movie. Jampanoi, as Lucie, brings about a madness and characterisation of a woman wrestling with her inner demons in the most agonizing of ways, she’s excellent, and the opening scenes of her escaping, and seeking revenge, are powerful, brutal and open the film with a blast, literally.
It’s a bleak film, disturbing, thought provoking, and certainly brutal, and the brutality and relentless violence that is featured in the film will not be for everyone, but in my view it makes absolute sense here, they are here for the very concept that the film addresses, and without them, the ending of the film, commanding and startling, wouldn’t have packed the same punch. Horrific down to its human core, the film has been compared to other films such as Frontiers, Haute Tension (Switchblade Romance) and Inside, though I feel like this is the more effective of those films. This is a terribly unsettling story, but the absolute quality of the performances from all involved, the sleek and gritty direction from Laugier, and the way it refuses to avoid showing you it’s nasty side, go to creating one of the most memorable horror films I’ve seen, and one I return to regularly (in the scheme of things) due to how interesting, original, and well-done it is.
It’s one of those films that you wouldn’t recommend to everyone due to its nature and the themes it tackles, but it is still one I find engaging and would have no issues in urging fans of the darker side of cinema to check out. You might not dig it, but in my view, it will still have an effect on you as a viewer.