There seems to be a relatively new genre in gory horror films that have been labeled with the insulting name of “torture porn,” the most popular being Hostel. While some of these films offer a grand abundance of gore, they aren’t always my cup of tea, like the overly excessive Grotesque. Martyrs technically doesn’t fall into this sub genre. It actually belongs to a sub genre called New French Extremity, which prides itself in being as graphic as possible with little to no censorship. Another reason this film stands apart is its strange philosophy and depth that creeps up from time to time.
When Lucie (Mylène Jampanoï) was a child, she was kidnapped and held hostage for a long period of time. While she was trapped, she was abused physically and psychologically. Eventually, she escaped. Fifteen years later, she, along with her only friend, Anna (Morjana Alaoui), has tracked down her tormentors. She soon gets her revenge, but finds out that she is still haunted by the demons that have been following her ever since her abduction. The two friends also begin to learn that there is something more sinister involving their kidnapping and torture, and may even be subjected to it one final time.
The narrative of this movie is structured in a very strange way. In school, I’ve learned that there are certain points that a film’s plot will hit. They are as follows: exposition, inciting incident, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution. Some people may have been taught differently, but this is just from my experience. Martyrs does hit some of these points, but at times it will seem to have missed one, or blurred it in such a way that it can be hard to miss. This is a very weird way to tell a story, and I’ve never really seen a movie that plays out like this one. At first, it’s kind of hard to adjust to the style, but once you do it’s really rewarding.
Martyrs is a very shocking film in a couple of ways. The first half of the movie has to do with revenge, questioning morality, and haunting pasts. In this half, the audience is treated to one of the most horrifying specters to be put on screen. It contorts and bleeds and shrieks and wedged its way deeply into my subconscious, only to return when I’m home alone. The second half of the movie is when things really start getting weird. Brutality runs amok, and my limits were tested. Going into this movie, I wasn’t really expecting anything too terrible. Little did I know that I’d be leaving this movie thinking that it was one of the scariest that I have ever seen.
Returning to the weird narrative structure, I do want to briefly complain about the pacing in the beginning of the movie. There’s a period of about 20 minutes that can only be compared to a bowl of jello. It’s moving, but not going anywhere. I was watching the movie hoping and praying that the cool stuff wasn’t over in the first half hour of the movie. It picked up after a little bit, but every time I watch this movie, I know that there’s going to be a period where I’m going to be bored. I wish this whole segment wasn’t there. It is important for character development, but it’s really slow and doesn’t match the rest of the film at all.
For a film that people label “torture porn”, the acting is at the top of its class. I was completely surprised with how well the actors performed. Special congratulations goes to Morjana Alaoui, who is in absolute control of all of the performances in the second half of the movie.
Martyrs is not a movie that can be easily stomached. I wouldn’t say it’s as shocking or controversial as A Serbian Film or even Antichrist, but it is something that will be lurking in your head and causing you to lose sleep for a long while to come. I will defend it till the end in saying that this is not torture porn. What Martyrs is to me is a twisted journey into the minds of troubled individuals engaging in troubling things. It’s disturbing psychology mixed with its brutality and sprinkling of philosophy pushes this film to be one of the best horror films of the past decade