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Movie Reviews

Reviewed by Onderhond 9 / 10

More like Noé and Grandrieux

French horror has been pushing the boundaries for some time now. First there was Haute Tension, then A l'Intérieur and newest in line is Martyrs, hyped up to take it all a little further. And it did, it definitely did. It's just that it doesn't belong in the same list as the films mentioned before. Martyrs goes way beyond.

Those expecting another fun, bloody, gory, insane horror flick can just up and leave, because Martyrs isn't like that. While it borrows the horror from films like A l'Intérieur and Haute Tension, the tone and effect of the film is much closer to Irréversible or better yet, Grandrieux's La Vie Nouvelle.

All these films belong to the French Extreme wave, a rather broad line of films of different backgrounds and themes, but all bearing an unrelentless level of extremity. And Martyrs stands proudly at the top of that list, even though Laugier himself seems a little hesitant to claim all credits for his film.

Martyrs starts off like you'd expect a bleak, raw and pitch black horror flick to start off. Only minutes into the film, bodies start flying and guts is spilled royally. Strangely though, there's no joy, limbs are flying enjoyment to be found. The presentation is cold, the characters are emotionally wrangled, the tension is harsh. Lucie, the main characters and victim of a year long torture plan, evokes the sympathy of the viewer and plays it out incredibly well.

The first half of the film keeps balancing on borderline horror, keeping its crude and dark exterior, but never crossing any boundaries. A Grudge-like ghost in added to the film, but Laugier stays close to the drama and never allows the film to become a mere horror flick. Things take a turn for the worse around halfway through, where the torture theme of the film is given even more power as Anna, Lucie's guardian, discovers the truth about the torture/kidnap story of the past.

From that moment on, the film becomes really uncomfortable to watch and crosses over to the realm of Noé and Grandrieux. We are witness of cold and painful torture scenes, driven to very unpleasant extremes nearing the end. The film follows the methods of the people who torture, which are based on repetition and endurance, making it all the harder to sit through.

In a rather surprising move, this film was released in theaters in Belgium by one of the most prestigious labels here, the reason for that is laid bare in the second half of the film. Rather that simply serve a story of horror and torture, Laugier digs deeper into the human mind. The idea behind Martyrs is not futile nor easily forgotten. There's a whole point to the film, elevating is above all its reference points (Saw and Hostel - sadly enough).

Martyrs is in a whole different league and is everything a film like Funny Games should have been. A definite assault to the gut, extremely graphic and to the point, without ever flinching or resolving to silly tricks to get a point across. It's a film only a director with love for the genre could make (remember that Mr Haneke, after two pointless attempts) and Laugier doesn't let down.

Visually, the film is well shot, though nothing out of the ordinary. The make-up on the other hand deserves some praise, same as the leading ladies who play their parts with conviction and depth (at one point Anna even shows a creepy resemblance to Falconetti in Jeanne d'Arc) . Essential to the film and certainly not an easy task.

Don't watch Martyrs to get a little horror kick, or to indulge in silly gorefests. This film will not deliver the fun thrills of regular horror movies, on the contrary. It's a bleak, depressive but all the more impressive look in the darker depths of the human condition, it will leave you cringing in your seat and it will make you want to look away. And it does so without ever numbing you down.

One of the most impressive films I've seen this year, a definite favorite and one that'll receive my further support through a DVD purchase, though I have no idea when or if I'll watch it again. Laugier uses every bit of skill he has to make Martyrs as painful as possible, and reaches further than any other has. A very solid 4.5*/5.0*, though no recommendation from my side. Definitely not a film for everyone.

Reviewed by pslester 10 / 10


What an experience. I'm a big horror fan and am happy watching and enjoying 'popcorn' slasher movies for what they are but really the genre is crying out for more pictures that truly assault the senses.

The French are particularly adept at painting bleak, unforgiving landscapes as well as thrusting you right into the action but rarely have I experienced anything quite so memorable as Martyrs.

Comparisons will (and have) been drawn with Hostel, Saw, Hellraiser and others but this is really rather misleading. Further comparisons have been drawn with Inside, Frontiers, Funny Games etc. and while slightly more credible in that atmosphere and psychology play a far greater part, none come close to Martyrs.

I'd challenge anyone not to be affected by this movie. It's gory, but you won't laugh. It's shocking, but you won't be able to look away. 24 hours later it's still running through my mind and if I see a better horror movie than this this year, I'll be truly amazed.

As much as I'd love to write more this is most certainly a film you should watch knowing as little as possible. Suffice to say the acting, cinematography, score, atmosphere and unbridled tension combine to create one of the most engaging films in this genre of the last two decades.

Watch it. Recommend it (it won't be easy) and let's hope Martyrs gets the credit it deserves.

Reviewed by rogergeorge 9 / 10

Brave, brilliant, brutal...

Having missed the opportunity to catch this at the Midnight Madness showing in TIFF08, I decided to go against all stated horror movie rules and watched this today around midday at a complex in downtown Toronto.. It's difficult to know what to say about this movie really; like a birth or a death, you really have to experience it yourself and draw your own conclusions. What I will say is that as a committed horror freak, rare is the occasion when I tense up and watch a film contorted, somehow trying to protect myself from what I'm putting myself through.. It contains enough tough to see horror/gore to satisfy the bloodhounds (though it doesn't feel like another attempt to up the gore ante for the sake of it, thankfully) and then - if you can watch it and many couldn't - transcends the genre totally with a jaw-dropping final act which if you're interested in the human condition and the capacity for seemingly normal people to do incredibly bad things will have you asking questions for some time to come and recognising that when horror and ideas mesh successfully, the result can be breathtaking. Absolutely not enjoyable but there again if you go to see a horror flick at a film festival and you know beforehand that it originally received an X-certificate in France, kicking up an almighty stink in the process - well, you know that an open mind is the least you can bring to bear. With that in mind I would recommend Martyrs as a film of incredible tension, harrowing physical violence and indelible imagery; unsurprisingly, the director name-checked Dario Argento during the Q&A as a major influence in his youth and there is a clear and confident signature in the work which suggests some parallels can be made between the two film-makers. I loved this movie and for those who have already posted comments good, bad or indifferent (and I really can't imagine a neutral response!) I hope like myself you have come away with a genuine sense of having seen something the like of which we are unlikely to see for some time..

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