Morjana Alaoui - Anna
Mylene Jampanoi - Lucie
Catherine Begin - Mademoiselle
Genre - Horror/Psychological
Running Time - 100 Minutes
Score - 4 Howls Outta 4
PLOT - MARTYRS is a French horror film that is not for the weak of heart. Young Lucie has been battered and bloody after being tormented in some warehouse for whatever reason. She escapes and is place into an orphanage/foster-home situation when found by authorities. There, Lucie meets Anna and the two become inseparable. But Lucie seems to believe that there's something, or someone, haunting her.
Fifteen years pass and Lucie (Mylene Jampanoi) hunts down the people who tormented her - some normal looking family that look like they wouldn't harm a fly. Lucie, with a shotgun, kills the entire family [even the innocent children her age], to appease a disfigured figure that doesn't stop at attacking her and cutting her skin. But it doesn't seem to work and Anna (Morjana Alaoui) comes to her rescue. Not sure if Lucie is hallucinating or what she sees is actually there, Anna is forcefully put in a position to find out what Lucie went through in her past, why she was put through it, and the results of this torment.
STORY - MARTYRS is an extremely disturbing film. I saw it weeks ago and it took me until recently to finally put words about it together for a review. It hits you hard right from the start and never lets up, the story never giving you a moment's breath to take it all in. The story is strong, as we're caught in the mystery of why anyone would want to torture a little girl, especially when the ramifications become more disturbing than the actual act itself. The concept for MARTYRS could have really been made to appear over-the-top and really silly, but while it looks and sounds absurd, it never really is. The characters are developed just enough for us to feel bad for them and the things they go through hits the emotions hard. Especially the second half of the film, which actually details what these girls go through and the reasons for it - they're forced to find martyrdom for whatever reason. It's disturbing to watch and I found myself feeling numb because of it.
I do think the film's two separate acts feel a bit disjointed in terms of narrative as we go from Lucie's story to Anna's story. But I think they both work on an individual level. Lucie's is more of a slasher/thriller fare, where we see her shooting people and fighting some sort of demonic figure from her past who cuts her every chance she gets. Or is Lucie actually cutting herself? We're never really sure. But it's the more violent, gory, and loud portion of the film because it's full on action. Then once we switch to Anna's story, the film becomes silent almost with lots of staring and quiet moments of reflection. The slasher becomes a psychological piece all of a sudden, giving us the villains' explanations of martyrdom, sin, the afterlife, pain, and how much a person is willing to be tortured in order to see what's on the other side of the life spectrum. I personally thought the quiet moments were harder to watch than the violent ones. It just very uncomfortable watching these people actually explain why they tortured others. I did think the ending was interesting though and how it made you think about the questions this film brings forth to the surface. The sad part is that there are people out there who probably believe in this. Who knew a non-plot about philosophy could be so unsettling?
DIRECTION - Pascal Laugier really uses the visuals to make the disturbing narrative more disturbing than it has any right to be. Laugier keeps the film very focused even while twisting and turning everything, as even though it should be disjointed, it feels very cohesive on different levels. I think the first half of the film is the better directed portion, as there's more going on at a narrative level. The editing is strong and the shots of action and gore are very effective. I also like how we're never really sure if Lucie is just crazy after what was done to her or if this scary figure is really haunting her. I believe she was just traumatized, but the editing is done in a way that it makes us question ourselves. I thought the torture stuff in the last half was directed well also, even though I was kind of hoping he would have shortened some of it because it was really slow, quiet, and just not pleasant to sit through. But then again, that was probably the point so it works. But the pacing is well done and the cinematography is beautiful.
VIOLENCE/SEX/LANGUAGE [aka THE GOOD STUFF] - This film is all about the violence and nothing else. People get shot, especially one who gets their brains blown to pieces. People are cutting themselves. Blood is splattering everywhere. Someone gets skinned alive and we see this for more minutes than I want to. And just the fact that torture is prominent here is enough violence in any movie. There is some nudity and some language, but it's completely overshadowed by the gore and torture. Enter at your own risk.
ACTING - I'm not really sure how to judge this one. Morjana Alaoui and Mylene Jampanoi were very effective as Anna and Lucie. But I was so disturbed by this film that sometimes I wondered if these ladies were even acting. All they pretty much did was cry and scream. Is that acting? I dunno! Catherine Begin was good as the Mademoiselle behind the torture stuff.
MUSIC - A very subtle score. It fit the film well.
THE FINAL HOWL
While INSIDE is a better film, MARTYRS is effective for its own reasons. This film is NOT for everybody. This is either a love it or hate it sort of film. I can't say this entertained me in any way, but as a piece of cinema, it's well-made and lingers with you after it's done. If that's not a success, I dunno what is. If you are interested, watch this before the American remake is released [yes, there's one coming]. I'm glad to have watched this once but I think that's enough for me. My psyche probably couldn't take another second of MARTYRS.