Review by: Topo Sanchez
SCUM Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Every once in a while, the world at large is gifted with a piece of art that defies genre categorization and throws the rule books out the window. Its like the breath of fresh air that is needed to re-ignite the industry’s sparks. We have seen this happen with the likes of Radiohead’s Ok Computer, Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain, and the popular Hollywood blockbuster Matrix (gasp!). And now we could possibly have a game changer in the horror genre in Pascal Laugier’s Martyrs.
The film begins with a frightened little girl, Lucie, running away from a factory or abattoir of some sort. Her hair a patch of mess, her frail body battered and bruised. Lucie is hospitalized and eventually finds a new home in an orphanage, where she meets Anna, her one and only friend. Anna soon discovers that Lucie is constantly haunted by visitations from a horrifying creature with a disfigured face, and she feels the need to protect Lucie.
Fast forward fifteen years. We see a typical family breakfast scene – the usual parent-child squabble at the dining table and mundane parental conversational topics – only to be interrupted by an unexpected chime of the doorbell. The front door opens to reveal an adult Lucie standing with a shotgun. Convinced that this was the people that held her captive and tortured her fifteen years ago, she execute the entire family in cold blood. She then calls Anna to ask for help in disposing the bodies.
Anna is shocked to see the gruesome scene, and is unsure of what is happening. Meanwhile, Lucie is experiencing another visitation by the disfigured creature inside the bedroom, and starts screaming in pain when the creature tears into her flesh. Anna rushes into the room to witness Lucie banging her own head against the wall and mutilating herself with a knife. We soon find out that the creature is Lucie’s mental manifestation of a girl that she had left behind during her escape fifteen years ago, and the killing of this family was in part to avenge her as well as to alleviate her own guilt. But alas, she realizes that she can never make the creature truly go away, and decides to end her own life. Lucie dies in Anna’s arms.
The next day, while Anna is cleaning up the house, she discovers a hidden underground chamber. Curious, she goes downstairs to have a closer look and finds a woman with a strange metal contraption over her eyes and head, her entire body covered in scars. She frees the woman and tries to nurse her back to health.
And this is where the movie takes a drastic turn.
A group of men enters the house, shoots the woman in the head and drags Anna to meet their leader, an elderly lady that simply goes by the name of Mademoiselle. Mademoiselle explains that her group has been trying to unlock the secrets of the afterlife, and is looking for ‘martyrs’ who can give them the answer that they are seeking. A martyr, she believes, can be ‘created’ through a long continuous process of physical torture and mental degradation, to the point where the pain elevates the subject to a new realm of physicality and into a transcendental state of being. Lucie was one of their test subjects fifteen years ago, and now it is Anna’s turn.
You will either love the ending because you sense some possible Truth in it, or scoff at it for its sheer absurdity. Well I love the ending, because it reminds me of a certain Fakir Musafa, the Father of Modern Primitivism, who believes that Pain is just one of the many vehicles in the human body to open the path to spirituality and Enlightenment.
Be warned, this film is really not for the squeamish or the easily offended. I have sat through countless hours of reel gore and splatter before, but i still squirmed at the sight of Anna’s physical abuse, so that’s really saying something. But if you can tell yourself to be brave and explore a new frontier, I think you will find Martyrs to be an enriching and thought provoking experience.
Full stars for this gem!