Martyrs (dir. Pascal Laugier)
Supposedly the latest and greatest in the new wave of French horror (see also: Ils, Haute Tension, Frontiers, A L’Intérieur), Martyrs is in fact more of a masturbatory art project for perpetual 16-year-olds than anything resembling a coherent thriller. Structured (intentionally or otherwise) like an especially dire three-act play, opening with a gratuitously gruesome act of revenge, followed by a suspense-free “horror” segment that relies on a character’s inner demons to attempt to procure scares (it doesn’t work), and capped off with a half-hour of repetitious torture and ultimately one of the shallowest excuses for social commentary this reviewer has witnessed in ages in the form of a particularly wretch-inducing act of mutilation. Laugier would like to address worthwhile themes – that of women as the greatest historical victims of religious opportunism and of the search for contemporary proof of divinity – but those themes aren’t really present in the film itself except as psychobabble to pad out the running length between bloody showcases. There might have been some legitimate thematic friction at work if Laugier had opted to make anything of his two female protagonists besides featureless victims – one abused since childhood, the other blandly compelled to follow – but instead they exist simply as objects to get kicked around. Laugier continues the trend inherent in Haute Tension of involving women’s issues – there, in the form of female desire, and here, in the form of religious exploitation – only to exploit them as a hollow plot machination.