FILM GUTTER Come on in, the water's savage... Martyrs (2008)
Dir. Pascal Laugier, France, 95 mINS
Well, we're about at the end of March Madness and that means that we're coming to the end of our audience-selected movies for the month. A huge thanks to all who voted, and gave me a chance to watch The Bunny Game and Antichrist for the first time as well as the opportunity to rewatch the wonderful Excision and today's choice, Martyrs. This one barely snuck in enough votes to take fourth, but I was glad to have another chance to see this French cult favourite. Almost universally acclaimed, this brutal offering is one that I saw shortly after its release but haven't revisited since then. And how to sum up the experience? Holy crap. Let's try that.
It's hard to genuinely describe or to do justice to Martyrs if you haven't watched it as yet. There's nothing else like this movie, nor has there been since. Unrelenting and punishing from the very outset, the first hour of this movie is a nightmarish whirlwind while the final half-hour is a broken, destructive, torturous experience. The story follow Lucie and Anna, friends from an orphanage from many years before after Lucie escaped a horrific ordeal of child abuse, locked in a darkened room, force-fed and subjected to unexplained violence.
The main narrative begins with a happy family scene, which is broken when Lucie knocks on the door and kills the whole family with a shotgun. This is a shocking intro and one that sets the tone for the whole movie – it's violent, vivid and visceral. When Anna arrives, Lucie is being set upon by a tormented, animalistic female creature, a very unsettling figment of her imagination. Anna tries to fix the mess that Lucie has left behind, but the task of removing four bodies and also keeping Lucie's haunted mind proves beyond her.
Anna might think to herself that things can't possibly get any worse, but she'd be very much wrong – because when she discovers a secret compartment in the house, it leads down to an underground basement and a hideous secret – which also reveals the truth behind Lucie's own ordeal. There she finds a half-starved, brutalised woman with a metallic mask over her face to block out any vision or light. Anna again does her best to help this poor, suffering woman but her attempts again come unstuck when a secret – and heavily armed – society arrive on the scene. It is then that 'Mademoiselle' finally explains the reason behind Lucie's long and brutal imprisonment, and what the basement is used for – to make 'Martyrs' of young women, to make them suffer so much emotional and physical brutality that they are able to take a glimpse into the afterlife and – hopefully – reveal something of what it is they see there.
And this is what faces Anna in the brutal finale of the movie. It's very different stylistically from the breathless opening but every bit as unpleasant, as Anna endures mental anguish and crushing attacks and beatdowns from her captors. Everything here – and indeed throughout the whole movie – is presented in unflinching detail, with the only one slight concession to the viewer in the very finale.
Ultimately, it's phenomenally hard to find a bad word to say about Matryrs. Stylistically and visually the movie is striking and unique, with vivid imagery throughout that you'll quite simply never forget. The performances are very strong, with the depictions of Anna and Lucie's respective torments being powerful and genuinely emotionally affecting. The plot is clever, and keeps the viewer guessing right to the finale – which I haven't spoiled for you here. It's worth waiting for, you can rest assured.
I'd also suggest you clear some time after watching this one, because this movie is entirely likely – as it did me – to leave you rather shell-shocked. It's beautiful, it's glorious and hideous at once, and it has an impact that I've rarely seen matched anywhere else. Only the conclusion of Megan is Missing or perhaps Requiem of a Dream have ever quite left me feeling so emotionally drained. This is fabulous, awe-inspiring, jaw on the floor filmmaking.
RATING: 10/10. You might have guessed by now this is a film I'm pretty enthusiastic about, so full marks should come as no surprise. I'd probably give it ten and a half or eleven if it weren't such a ridiculous thing to do – but this is well, well among the best we've watched her at Film Gutter, right up there with the likes of Excision and Flowers, both of which I also gushed about aplenty. The French extreme scene put out plenty more good and even very good movies, but nothing for me ever matched this one. Simply unmissable.
Film Gutter Volume 1 is the full collection of 2015 reviews and interviews from Ginger Nuts of Horror's popular Film Gutter series, looking at some of the most bizarre, grotesque and disturbing horror features ever made. With over 50 movie reviews plus interviews with directors and actors including Tom Six, Dieter Laser, Matthew A Brown Jimmy Weber and Phil Stevens. Film Gutter Volume 1 also takes in a host of exclusive content, including the much-requested 'most disturbing movies' list!