Directed by: Pascal Laugier
Plot: "A young woman's quest for revenge against the people who kidnapped and tormented her as a child leads her and a friend, who is also a victim of child abuse, on a terrifying journey into a living hell of depravity."- IMDB
So not a movie to watch with the folks after Thanksgiving dinner.
I tried to find the trailer but for some reason it wouldn't load. This might be for the best.
How I Discovered It: (Just as a warning, a few of the links in this section go to IMDB pages that feature posters some people might find unsettling.) I don't remember exactly when I first heard of Martyrs. It's been on a lot of lists that cover the best horror films of the twenty-first century (or the most unsettling movies of all time). It lands at 31 on Time out London's: The 100 Best Horror Films. The blurb that accompanies the movie points out that Martyrs is the closest example to "torture porn" that made the list.
I probably heard about this film around the same time that I first heard about the French New Wave of Horror. It's a recent trend of "extreme" horror films that push the boundaries of what the audience can take. The genre includes A L' Interieur (Inside) and Haute Tension (High Tension).
Obviously this is not to be confused with French New Wave which was a movement of films released in the 1950's and 60's that (among other things) wished to capture the spirit of "modern french life." They included titles such a A Bout de Souffle (Breathless-1960) and Les Quatre Cents Coups (400 Blows - 1959).
So essentially, French New Wave of Horror looks like this:
While "classic" French New Wave looks like this:
I went into Martyrs with an attitude you might expect from someone participating in their first extreme eating competition. You know you might not necessarily have fun, and you know it's not good for you, but you still want to see how far you can push your limits (without doing anything as athletic as mountain climbing). This movie's notorious reputation simply made me curious. And to be completely honest, I found myself enjoying Martyrs a lot more than I ever expected.
The Saw franchise claims to possess a philosophy about how far people are willing to go in order to survive. I only halfway buy into this philosophy in terms of the first film and (from what I hear) the later installments are just excuses to see people get ripped to shreds.
Martyrs contains messages/themes about theology, mindless ideology and humanity's relationship with death. Granted, I know very little about the director. He may have just sprinkled these ideas into the story just so the audience can feel like they're watching a halfway intelligent movie, but I buy into the substance behind Martyrs considerably more than any of the Saw movies. (Admittedly I have only seen the first two Saw movies. I'm judging the later installments based on their reputation).
While Martyrs is one of the most violent films I have ever seen, there are occasional moments of restraint. Scenes of torture and unnecessary surgery toward the end are summed up in montages or skipped over entirely. Instead of dwelling on the suffering (like many horror films would have) the audience is quickly moved forward. There is a great deal of suffering throughout the film but the story perpetually evolves rather than lingering on the suffering. (Who knows how the American remake will handle this.)
So who should watch Martyrs? That's a tough question. My first reaction is that it's only for people with strong stomachs and a relatively high tolerance for violence. However, I don't think of myself as someone with either of these, but I still enjoyed the movie so who knows. At the end of the day I would say that Martyrs is for people who want to see boundaries pushed without forgetting about story, complex characters or intriguing concepts.
But if all of this doesn't sound like your cup of tea then that's fine. In that case just rent Jules and Jim and stick with classic French New Wave.