out of Five
Running time: 95
Impressively directed, superbly acted horror film with a powerful script and moments of extreme violence, Martyrs is an extraordinary, powerful and genuinely horrifying drama.
What's it all about?
Directed by Pascal Laugier, Martyrs opens with a terrified young girl, Lucie (Jessie Pham) escaping from what has obviously been a horrific ordeal; she's subsequently admitted to a mental hospital where she befriends Anna (Erika Scott), who takes Lucie under her wing. Years later, a grown-up Anna (now played by Mylene Jampanoi) brings Lucie (Morjana Alaoui) to an ordinary-looking house, where she exacts a violent, bloody revenge on the family she believes responsible for her ordeal.
However, that's only the beginning of the story, as Anna's exploration of the house reveals the true meaning behind Lucie's torture and captivity.
Martyrs will no doubt be dismissed as torture porn Francaise, thanks to its scenes of extreme violence and horrific, extensive torture scenes, but it does not deserve to be lumped in with the likes of Hostel and Saw. For one thing, there is a genuine point to the torture scenes, though to reveal any more would spoil one of the film's best moments; suffice it to say that Lucie's captors are not torturing her for their own (and by extension, the audience's) sick pleasure, but have an altogether more philosophical motive, as hinted at by the title.
Ultimately, Martyrs has more in common with films such as Gaspar Noe's Irreversible, not least because if you walk out halfway through (and there will be walk-outs), then you won't experience the oddly redemptive effect of the climax.
The performances are superb – it's impossible to watch Martyrs and not wonder what Jampanoi and Alaoui must have gone through on set. In addition, the make-up effects are extraordinary and genuinely horrifying; most notably during a sequence in which Anna tries to release another victim from a torture device.
It's not for the weak of stomach, but if you can handle the violence, Martyrs is a powerful, disturbing and thought-provoking film that deserves to be seen. Recommended.