Last year, a little French horror film called “Inside” hit U.S. DVD and caused a huge stir amongst the horror community. This movie about a pregnant woman defending herself against a ferocious attacker trying to get to her unborn baby is so brutal in both shocking onscreen violence and overall bleak tone that the hardest of the hardcore horror fanatics were tinkling their trousers.
Not too long after the release of “Inside,” a challenger to the throne of brutality was announced: another French horror film called “Martyrs” had been causing walkouts at festivals all over the world. Soon, the mention of one film would not go without a mention of the other. It is safe to say that a double feature of “Inside” and “Martyrs” would probably cause many to gargle razorblades post screening. And now, “Martyrs” has arrived on DVD featuring an introductory apology by filmmaker Pascal Laugier. Some of you will not be able to accept his apology. This one’s a bumpy ride.
“Martyrs” opens with a young girl, Lucie, escaping from a crude-looking torture chamber. Authorities then find her running down the road, half-naked, beaten, bloodied, and bruised. She is taken to a special hospital where she will reside along with other victims of child abuse. It is here that she befriends the young Anna. This friendship helps the two girls begin their recovery process. However, Lucie continues to suffer psychotic episodes where she sees a monstrous, twisted old woman chasing after her.
We skip forward 15 years to find Lucie and Anna still together and free from the confines of the hospital. One would hope that their time spent hospitalized would have eased their pain, but Lucie believes she has found the people who had tortured her as a child and vengeance is the one track on her mind.
Do know that at one point in the film, we witness a 15-20 minute segment of non-stop torture? Up until this point “Martyrs” screams along, revealing one horrifying turn of events after another. But then the movie stops at this one certain point and you can’t help but feel a little disappointed that this twisted road has led to just more torture porn that is so popular in horror films today. However, as the segment carries on you realize that the torture being witnessed isn’t sensationalized like it is in films such as “Hostel” or “Saw.” Cue the sick feeling in your stomach when you also realize that this simple beating and breaking down of a human being isn’t meant as a cheap thrill. There’s a purpose here and that is a very sickening thought. Sicker than that, this purpose leads to a happy ending.
To say that the film’s end result is fulfilling is entirely inappropriate considering what you just sat through for the past 90 minutes. However, there is a payoff that separates “Martyrs” from the rest of your average run-of-the-mill mean-spirited fare, all the while perhaps becoming the meanest of the bunch. “Martyrs” makes you think and for a movie like this, that’s the most horrifying thing it could possibly do. The hype is justified. This film hits its target, for better and for worse.