> If there is one word to sum up Martyrs then relentless would certainly be the perfect summation. The movie opens with scratchy 70’s newsreel footage explaining how a young girl named Lucie was abducted and held captive in a disused slaughterhouse for a year. Traumatised by the events and unable to explain what happened to her the authorities relocate the girl to an orphanage where she befriends Anna.
Years later, we cut to a cosy domestic scene of a French family which is shattered by the arrival of the now grown up Lucie ( Mylene Jampanoi) who proceeds to slaughter the entire family in a series of explicit shotgun murders. Anna (Morjana Aloui) is on hand to help clean up the mess but Lucie, a clearly damaged and emotionally damaged woman is followed and stalked by an unseen, malevolent creature.
The question is: what is motivating Lucie? It seems she is out for revenge on the people who locked her up and tortured her when she was a child and that appears to be the crux of the film. What is the malformed presence attacking and taunting her? Well, you may figure that out for yourself but to reveal anymore about Martyrs would be to spoil it’s distinctly harsh left turn.
Compared to the recent strain of American torture horror flicks such as those of the Saw and Hostel franchises, Martyrs makes them all seem rather lightweight in terms of its visceral and emotional effect on the viewer. From the first minute until the last, it never lets up with Laugier attempting to place the audience right at the centre of the horror experienced by the two female protagonists and refusing any attempt to wink at the audience or introduce any humour to alleviate the dread.
It is tough on the senses and the stomach. Sound effects are used as a weapon to disorientate and graphic violence is displayed without restraint. It’s testament to the film-makers skill and the extremely committed performances of the two female leads that the fill the film never strays into violent camp.
However, despite the film-making skill on display here and the assured manner in which writer/director Laugier keeps us guessing and holds our attention and repels us at the same time, we are left emotionally and psychically drained but unsure as to what the directors intentions are.
If his objective was to make a unnerving, full-on take no prisoners horror movie, then , his mission was accomplished. However, it is made clear that the film has higher aspirations as it changes gear at the half way mark and takes a gradually more disturbing and perplexing turn. This confused, unconvincing attempt by the director to inject another level of meaning and emotion into the story seems both hypocritical and ridiculous.
A difficult film to sit through but if you like your horror movies or to be challenging and felt that Irreversible or Switchblade Romance were too cookie-cutter , then Martyrs may be what you are looking for. Just be prepared!