April 28, 2009
Morjana Alaoui as Anna
Mylène Jampanoï as Lucie
Catherine Bégin as Mademoiselle
Robert Toupin as Le père
Patricia Tulasne as La mère
Juliette Gosselin as Marie
Xavier Dolan-Tadros as Antoine
To call Martyrs (French, with subtitles) a horror movie is a bit of a mistake. On the one hand, it is extremely horrific, but on the other you probably won’t find your heart in your throat due to the suspense as with traditional horror flicks. There really isn’t a lot of suspense. There’s just horror and shock at what you’re witnessing. Martyrs is a straightforward torture flick. Literally, a torture flick. Yet to dismiss it as just another Hostel would be a dreadful mistake. Martyrs represents probably the acme of what torture porn is capable of being, although to call it porn is to render it a huge disservice. It’s a very, very good movie; one of the best ever made.
The film begins by showing a young girl, bloodied and gaunt, running from some unspecified evil she’s just escaped from. Shortly afterward, we flash forward to the girl as a young lady–Lucie, still too traumatized fifteen years later to sleep alone. So she sleeps in the same room with her lifelong friend Anna, who loves Lucie (later we find out that yes, it’s in that way) and is doing her best to empathize with her. But Lucie has a demon. A real one. One that chases her around and cuts her with knives and is generally an all around twisted bitch to her. Anna never sees the demon, but she goes along with Lucie when Lucie devises a plan to do what it takes to put it to rest. She must return to the heart of darkness and kill her childhood tormentors. It turns out, you see, that the evil Lucie was running from in the beginning was a chamber of horrors in which she was kept chained up for an extended period of time and methodically, industrially, tortured.
It’s here that the movie gets really interesting due to the way it begins to defy expectations. Unfortunately, it’s also here that it becomes maddeningly difficult to review without giving away key points in the plot. Suffice it to say that the situation turns out to be far stranger than what you’re expecting. Lucie succeeds, you see, in carrying out her plan — with the somewhat unwilling assistance of Anna–but the suspicion immediately arises: she got the wrong guys. Then moreover, even though her demon is eventually put to rest, it’s not in the way we thought it was going to happen. And finally, just as we think all the plot points have been satisfied and we’ve gotten to the end of the movie, we find out we’re only halfway into it. For something terrible and sinister is about to happen to Anna.
The second half is by far the most interesting half of the movie (and the first half is pretty darned interesting), but again, I can’t say anything about it for fear of spoiling things for you. All I will do is repeat what I said at the beginning: this isn’t a traditional horror movie. There’s not a lot of suspense in it of the kind horror fans are accustomed to, but it is horrific and bloody in spades and it will have you still thinking about it long after the credits have rolled.