Martyrs (2008) Review

Martyrsby Michael Sieber,

I hate the term, torture porn, but...

I've learned that whenever a horror movie is described as “the most shocking/disturbing film” it's usually code for, “we didn't have much of a story, so we're going to throw a bunch of brutal images at you so you won't notice.”

2008's Martyrs is a French horror movie that's been billed as one of the most disturbing movies you'll ever see.

The movie starts with a young girl, Lucie, who escapes from a torture chamber and is taken to an institution where she's befriended by another young girl named Anna. Anna acts as a mother figure to Lucie, giving her comfort whenever she has nightmares about her terrible ordeal. We cut forward 15-years to a family living in the suburbs. They're having breakfast and joking with each other when a knock comes at the front door. When dad opens the door, Lucie blasts him to death with a shotgun, and then proceeds to murder the rest of the family. Once the task is completed, Lucie phones Anna and tells her that she's found the family that locked her up and tortured her so many years ago.

Anna comes to the rescue, and while she's trying to clean up the mess, Lucie is tormented by a ghostly apparition of a girl she left behind at the torture chamber that forces her to abuse herself by cutting her arms and banging her head against the wall. When she realizes that the death of her torturers won't put an end to these hellish visions, Lucie commits suicide by cutting her throat and leaving Anna alone in the house.

But wait, there's more.

For some odd reason, Anna decides to try and clean up the house and she discovers an underground torture chamber and a girl who is chained up. As she attempts to save the girl, a group of strangers arrive, kill the girl and take Anna prisoner.

The second half of the movie depicts Anna being relentlessly tortured at the hands of her captors, and I do mean relentlessly. There's like a twenty-minute stretch of scene after scene of Anna being punched, slapped, kicked and roughed up by a man.

The problem with this is that, while it is brutal, it's also very desensitizing. When violence goes on and as it does in Martyrs, the shock wears off and boredom sets in, which is exactly why (in my opinion) it's almost always better to show restraint when you're trying to keep an audience emotionally involved in your movie. A loud noise might startle you, but if that loud noise goes on for an hour, you'll probably find a way to tune it out.

I won't give away the ending, but suffice to say, it didn't work for me. That the consortium turned out to be nothing more than thinly veiled modern day Mengeles was pretentious at the very least . I know there are some people who will defend this movie as an allegory of how easy it is for the strong to brutalize the weak in the search for truth, however, I would argue that Cannibal Holocaust did that already and did it better.

Martyrs is a very slick movie with high production values and very strong actors in the two lead characters. However, the story is weak, and the whole film amounts to nothing more than one violent set piece after another. Recommended for lovers of torture, not recommended for lovers of stories.


Submitted by Jamie Zaccaria on Wed, 10/19/2011 - 03:17

Jamie Zaccaria's picture

This movie stuck with me for a loooong time and really freaked me out.
I totally agree with you about the second half of the film, which I hated. They should have made a film based solely on the first half.

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