Director: Pascal Laugier (2008)
Starring: Mylene Jampanoi, Morjana Alaoui
Find it online: IMDB, Amazon UK, Amazon US

There’s one scene in Eli Roth’s torture-turd Hostel, where a genuine chill strikes every time. As Paxton is tricked into entering the dilapidated basement, he is dragged off by a pair of burly henchmen. Pulled kicking and screaming down the corridor, he – and the audience – realise just what awaits him. It’s a chilling moment. Paxton is slapped around the face with his own helplessness and mortality, and it strikes a chord in the audience too. It’s a universal fear. Pascal Laugier’s Martyrs takes that moment and drags it out for 99 minutes.

Martyrs starts off bleakly and never lets up. A young child escapes from a dingy basement and runs, screaming, down the street in her underwear. Once safe and sound in a kiddies’ hospital, she makes a bond with fellow abuse victim Anna, but refuses to talk about what happened to her in that basement. At night, she suffers from horrendous visions of a black-haired dead zombie girl type (think The Ring or The Grudge, except actually scary).

Fast-forward a few years, and the girls are now roughly eighteen years old apiece. Torture victim Lucie (Mylene Jampanoi) bursts into a bourgeois family home, waving a shotgun about. Lots of gory mess occurs, and it’s up to Anna (Morjana Alaoui) to clear things up.

It’s difficult to discuss Martyrs without ruining the plot. Like Takashi Miike’s Audition, this is a film that needs to be seen with a pre-spoiled mind. The first half plays out like an intense, visceral home invasion movie (think Haute Tension or a less po-faced version of Funny Games) with a few weird supernatural elements thrown in for good measure. This first half of the movie is a masterclass in storytelling and tension. At several points, you’ll wonder where Laugier can possibly go next – surely the story’s got nowhere else to go? But each and every time he pulls it off, freeing yet another unpredictable shock or twist from his bag (admittedly, you could also interpret this as a form of scriptwriting ADHD, which I wouldn't entirely argue with... but Laugier makes it work).

And then, at around the hour mark, the story changes completely. It’s left-field and shockingly cruel and, ultimately, it will either engross or alienate the audience. I, for one, respect Laugier for what he tried to do here, but feel that the (much slower paced) second half lets the film down somewhat. It’s intelligent and existential, and (just about) fits with everything that has gone before, but it just felt a tad too ‘familiar’ for this jaded horrorhead. It’s dragged out for a step or two too long (which was probably the point) and then other things happen, which are far too juicy to spoil here. They deserve seeing firsthand. Although once seen, well, you may never be able to peel a grape again.

As Martyrs ends – with a pitch-perfect flashback to the two girls playing as children running over the credits – one will probably feel like curling up into a little ball and crying. It’s heartbreaking stuff and fuck I think I need a shower just thinking about it

That’s a lot of hyperbole there, but Martyrs genuinely is that good. There’s emotion where Hostel brought us titillation. There’s intelligent debate where Funny Games gave us a lecture. There’s a good film where otherwise Captivity took a dump on the lens and called it ‘art’.

Just don’t ask me to bloody watch it again.



  2. great, thought-provoking movie.

  3. I just got done watching this movie. It was pretty decent, though the plotline started lose me with all the philosophy. I felt there was some real emotion put into the characters though, which elevated it above the Roth and Saw type shit. However, it turned out to be one of those movies that seems as though it set out to make you feel stupid if you don't get what the whole point was at the end. The entire last third or so of the film (after she gets captured and all) really slows the film down to a crawl, and the old woman's vague explanation for the torture wasn't enough for me to stop being annoyed that movie I'd been watching and started to invest myself in was essentially over. I get the impression that it's intended to be a film you're supposed to understand more and more each time you watch it, and I might turn it on again sometime, but the story didn't perplex me enough to think it warrants repeated viewings to unearth a supposed deeper meaning. Isn't that what a Darren Aronofsky film is supposed to be for? Definitely delving into pretentious territory.

  4. Yeah, definitely. The film lost me at around the second half too. I think it *just about* avoids pretension thanks to the great performances and actual emotions. Sure beats Hostel every time, anyhoo.

  5. I thought this was a great film too. Yeah the first half was definitely stronger but the more horrific stuff happened in the second half. I felt really bad for these two girls and I got really angry and upset watching this. I will never watch it again either but I'm glad I did.

  6. One of my favorites of the last few years. "Heartbreaking" is a good word for it. I LOL'd at the "peel a grape" line, BTW. :)