Monday, February 21, 2011

Martyrs (Pascal Laugier) - 2008

As stated many times, I am a fan of horror films. Over the past couple of years, I have been reading a lot of articles and reviews about horror films that have been asking 'when is too much too far?' and 'how far are we willing to go for a scare?' These questions arrive after such films as Hostel and Saw started turning horror films into more of a torture porn film. There is something to be said about these questions. That which scared us once isn't always going to scare us. Eventually, we need something a little more intense. Something that goes a little bit further than the last film we watched. So when are we to blame for how far the horror genre goes? As Michael Haneke pointed out in his brilliant Funny Games, the audience is just as much a part of the violence.

Martyrs is a difficult film to discuss without giving too much away. I went into the film only knowing it was being called one of the most violent films in recent history. I only knew enough about the film to get me through what I call the "first act." For everything that takes place during the "second act" was very sudden and I had heard nothing about this film heading in the direction it eventually went. I enjoyed both the first and second act of the film. Although, I do believe they tie together a little too loosely. In the end, the experience overshadows the thread of the plot.

The first act of the film plays out like High Tension. A very intense, confusing, violent confrontation between the audience and the film. We are even handed a twist similar to that of High Tension before the film is half over. This surprise isn't quite that much of a surprise. In fact, it is expected. And, so brilliantly used to distract the audience from asking 'why' everything else is taking place. In fact, the distractions used throughout this film really distract on a level I have never experienced in a horror film.

At the start of the film, we are introduced to a young girl running from an abandoned factory, Lucie. She is clearly a victim of abuse. We soon find out she is only a victim of physical abuse. She was never sexually abused. She is taken into an orphanage where she befriends Anna. As she is growing up, Lucie does not reveal all that happened to her in the factory and she doesn't quite remember who tortured her. But, fifteen years after escaping she spots the image of a man and woman in a local newspaper. She knows these were those who held her captive. Within the first twenty minutes of the film, Lucie is at their door and massacres the whole family. Eventually calling Anna in for assistance.

All of this happens very early on in the film. And, some of this adds to the extreme violence. It is an intense build up. Not exactly anything brand new, but expressed painfully. While at the same time, the cinematography is poetic. Almost unexpected from a horror film. Again, maybe these beautiful moments are used to distract from what has happened and what is going to happen.

I can't say anything more without giving away the film. Perhaps, this is the biggest downfall of the film. The inability to explain and discuss without ruining. It is the type of film that you can only really see once. The first viewing being a complete shock to the viewer (in image and in purpose). What allows this film to rise above being a total gore fest is the message. The heart of the film. The purpose. The big reveal. And, even after one big reveal... we are still greeted with one more by the film's finale. How many climaxes can one film have? Martyrs contains at least three.

After I watched the film I was confused. I was shocked. I was disturbed. Not necessarily by what I was forced to see, but what I was forced to ask and think about. How often does a horror film cause you to really question its purpose? Then to cause you to question your own?


1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the comment on my blog Matt!

    I LOVE THIS MOVIE. I do disagree with you on one thing though. I think this is a movie to be watched more than a few times to truly understand the underlying connections and the final "statement" it attempts to make. I enjoyed reading your review, hope to see more!