Festival Nouveau Cinema 2008: Martyrs

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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.

  1. Shaz says

    I particularly liked the way this film kept on shifting our sympathies.

    Initially, we sympathize for the girls. In the “revenge” sequence we start caring for the nice family. (That is clearly the intention when we spend a god amount of time getting to know them a little – it could be us). SPOILER:
    After they are killed, we start hating the girl who took the revenge – only to have the tables turn back on us.

    I thought it was not as powerful as it thought but it was still more inventive, thought-provoking, horrifying and intelligent than most films out of US.

    Also, I’m afraid, this write up by Mr. Howell is not a review it is more of a rant.

  2. Tara says

    Simon, I cannot agree with you more. Thank you for hitting it right on the nose.
    The following is what I have to say about it:

    This movie is horrible, nasty, and ultimately unoriginal. The only thing to get out of it is that there are truly evil people, and there is no limit to the evil actions capable of them. How old is this chewed-out crap?
    A review post pointed out an interesting line in the film, and here I’m paraphrasing, “There are only victims left in the world…” This has struck to the understanding of the film and to the insight of the director – to parade depravity, to make a statement by extreme victimization, and to profitably sell this recycled bs by applying artistic make-up. This lead to the question of the mind capable of conceiving such depravity. How deprave such a mind to feel accomplishment from making such hopeless a statement, to succumb to it, and then, to regurgitate and sell it? Just read history textbooks, and anyone can conjure up unspeakable horrors. Just ask what would physically hurt most, and dig deeper, or tear deeper to arrive at the violence of Martyrs. Then, go to film school to learn how to light it. It is a shame that a director who capable of beauty chose to sell himself short, and exercise his talent on crap. Then, again maybe it is the time, the culture, the society, and the world that allow for nothing else but victims.
    As for those who reviewed this movie as “greatness”, a horror flick is a horror flick. Its foremost objective is to disturb, shock, and horrify audience. It does not require “greatness” to come up with torture techniques, then add visual and sound effects that can rouse just about any emotions. Show people a chicken flapping around with its head cut off, and most will get squeamish. (Btw chicken with head just chopped can flap around.) It does not qualify as great.
    Stop promoting this movie as philosophical, insightful storytelling. Once again, it’s a horror flick. Martyr was made for audiences who pay $11 to get scared. Is it not clear that by promoting it as anything else is just a big fat joke? Or, maybe it is because these reviewers cannot justify to themselves how they can sit through such numbing disgust.
    Furthermore, a watcher who thrills at this film is nothing more or less than a driver who slows down to watch an accident on the road. This is what needs to be decided upon. Are you someone who slows down to watch an accident? Can you justify your moral value to your action?
    Stop calling the accident as a beautiful work of art.

  3. Alex says

    I think that is somewhat unfair of you to take a jab at the guys who run this site only because they disagree with your views on a film. I have not heard this show yet but I didn’t care too much for Martyrs either. A bit too pretensions for my taste.

  4. Kyle says

    You clearly missed the point of the film. Unlike films like Hostel and Saw, immature MTV horror fans didn’t enjoy Martyrs. It makes violence disturbing instead of basically coming off as splat-stick. You won’t find it at your local Walmart, and it’s not at Blockbuster uncensored.

    Simon, you don’t even mention the experimental score, amazing acting, or the fact that you care about the two girls. The beginning is a major set up, and total mind-fuck. Good for you! I heard this site was amazing, but so far it’s rather Ebert-esque when it comes to reviews.

    1. Simon H. says

      It’s not hard to generate sympathy for characters (particularly women) when they’re being graphically tortured. Actually, NOT generating sympathy for them would have been more impressive. A film getting censored is not in and of itself proof of its worth. As for the “point” of the movie, we’ll have to agree to disagree, I’m afraid.

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