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Martyrs (2008)
Director: Pascal Laugier

review by Gary McMahon

I make no apologies for the relative brevity of this review. If it were any longer, I would be forced to give away certain things about the film, and I do not want to do that. This is a film you must discover for yourself.

Occasionally a film comes along and takes your breath away, forcibly evicting you from your comfort zone and spitting in the face of your preconceived, pre-packed, oven-baked ideas on what makes great art. Films like these make you realise that certain boundaries - both metaphorical and physical - can be utterly destroyed and they remind you once again of the power of filmmaking. Martyrs is such a film.

Unfairly (and lazily, in my opinion) tagged on to the tail end of the 'torture-porn' subgenre by many critics, Martyrs takes some of the conceits of that kind of film, sticks them in a blender, and then transcends the restrictions of Hollywood franchises like Hostel and Saw, making them look like the crude and buffoonish live-action cartoons they surely are. Laugier's first feature House Of Voices (aka: Saint Ange) was, apparently, a referential piece of work - a love letter to his favourite films and directors. This one, I can only assume, is his own vision entirely… and what a dark vision it is.

To review a film like Martyrs, you have to take great pains (pun not intended) to ensure that you do not give away spoilers. The best way to see something like Martyrs is cold, with no real idea what it is about or where the plot will take you - that's exactly how I watched it, and I'll be damned if I'm going to spoil the experience for someone else. Suffice to say, the film is filled with images of torture and violence - it is, after all, a film about flesh - but instead of focusing merely on the physical damage done to the victims, it achieves a kind of spiritual agony that is, at times, truly uncomfortable to watch.

At first glance, and from reading the back blurb on the DVD case, you might be forgiven in thinking that Martyrs is a generic slasher film, or a derivative little nasty, but as early as the opening pre-credit sequence you are suddenly drawn into something unexpectedly terrifying. The first five minutes alone of Martyrs scared me enough to realise that I was onto something special.

Roughly halfway through the film there is a tonal and thematic twist and the narrative becomes something very different to what we might have come to expect - the graphic revenge scenario we have been watching for 45 minutes changes into something much more metaphysical. This abrupt shift in gear will no doubt alienate much of the audience, but I thought it was a masterstroke, deftly justifying the characters' brutality as well as forcing us to confront a genuine spiritual horror.

I cannot recommend Martyrs enough. Some people will love it; an equal amount of folk will hate it. But if you're seeking something challenging and thought provoking, look no further than this devastating piece of work, which, in my opinion, takes extreme horror to a whole new level of hurt.

Martyrs film poster

Martyrs on blu-ray disc



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