I love Horror movies. Like other genres, it has its fair share of tripe and garbage, but the best horror films are those that truly linger with you. They’re the movies that truly terrify you, and push you to truly think about all the terrifying, horrible things that can be found in the world, and all the uncertainty that there is in life. One such example of a movie that truly scares and truly makes you think is my eighth favourite movie of all time: 2008’s Martyrs.
Martyrs is not the best horror movie (though I would say it is one of the best of the 2000s and maybe of all time), but it’s my favourite horror movie because it is one of the few movies in this genre that truly freaks me out. It is a thought provoking, relentless, and horrifying tale about abuse, uncertainty, and a quest for answers. This is all expertly shown through technically savvy film making and interesting writing. I will be talking about both the more technical elements, as well as the themes of this movie.
The film tells the story of a young girl named Lucie. After escaping imprisonment, she is put into foster care, where she becomes friends with a young girl named Anna. Throughout her life, she deals with the trauma of her imprisonment, and is haunted by a demon who harms her constantly. Fast forward fifteen years, and we focus on a typical family. When the father answers the door, Lucie appears and blows him and his entire family away with a shotgun. Lucie, believing that she has found the people who held her captive, calls Anna and asks for help. When Anna arrives, she aids Lucie in dealing with what she did and disposing of the bodies, but doubts whether Lucie did the right thing. During this time, the demon that haunts Lucie continues to do so and cuts her up badly. After discovering that the mother is still alive, and Anna tried to save her, Lucie snaps, and kills the mother. When confronted with the demon, we discover that this demon is a figment of Lucie’s imagination and that she was engaging in self harm. Lucie eventually kills herself and Anna, distraught, stays in the house and keeps Lucie’s body around. While exploring the house, Anna discovers a hidden area of the house, and discovers a captive, naked and chained to the wall. After trying to care for her, the captive tries to kill herself, but is shot by mysterious figures who dispose of all the bodies and begin to keep Anna hostage. We then discover that this house belongs to a cult, and the cult is going to keep Anna and torture her in order to find what lies beyond death.
This film is far from pleasant, but god damn is it worth it. Amazing script, fantastic performances and characters, great cinematography, amazing gore effects, scary imagery, interesting ideas, etc. The film is brutal, and disturbing, and pulls no punches. But all of those disturbing elements serve the story and make for an amazing ride.
Firstly, the film is amazingly made from a technical viewpoint. The first 10-15 mins alone has so many cool shots and sequences. The bit where we are introduced to the demon, and the music stings and cuts are so expertly timed while not becoming cliché was so good. The POV shot where someone is chasing the little girl and we think it’s scary but it turns out to be her brother and they’re just horsing around, was one of the best false scares I have ever seen. Further, the gore effects in this movie are incredible, especially near the end. The captive in the house getting her helmet removed, and we see each little metal piece being removed was so sickening. The captive cutting the flesh from her arm was also vomit inducing. Pascal Laugier managed to bring together all these elements to make something visually interesting, and absolutely hideous in terms of gore and horror.
But the film is far from just technical excellence, it also tackles all these interesting ideas. The film, in a sense, is two movies put together into one, but Laugier manages to connect them through a recurring theme. Both halves deal with the theme of the quest for answers and closure in their own manner. The first half, when Lucie invades the home and kills the family, believes that she has put her demons to rest because of her actions. However, the demon that has haunted her all her life continues to do so, as she continuously pleads that she has killed them and it can go away now. Meanwhile, Lucie’s friend Anna wants to believe that Lucie has done something right, but she doubts whether these were the right people Lucie killed, and she questions Lucie’s sanity. Believing that she will never escape this demon, Lucie takes her own life, and ends her suffering. This is all conveyed through Morjana Alaoui and Mylene Jampanoi’s powerful performances, and the great script.
The second half, when the cult is introduced, shows this theme the most through the ending. After having been tortured, Anna, supposedly, finally sees the afterlife. While lying half dead on a slab, Anna tells the cult leader what she saw, but we as the audience do not hear what she said. While the cult is being gathered, the leader asks her assistant through the bathroom door if he can imagine the afterlife, to which he responds “No.” The leader proceeds to stick a gun in her mouth and utters the final line of the film “Keep doubting.” After having learned the truth, the cult leader no longer wishes to be on this Earth, but for what reason, we will never know. This ending is brilliant because it keeps you talking about the film and it pulls you in to rewatch it, wanting you to formulate your own answer about what kind of closure the cult leader got.
Overall, this is a Horror masterpiece. It is brilliant in both its technical proficiency and its thematic depth. Influential and boundary pushing, as it inspired many other French film makers to push the boundaries of horror, it is a terrifying, yet rewarding experience. It is far from a pleasant movie, but if you can stomach it, it is a must watch for any horror fan, and it is the first in this series of reviews to receive this:
10 out of 10