Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Martyrs (2008) review


Morjana Alaoui (Anna), Mylene Jampanoi (Lucie)

Directed by Pascal Laugier

A young girl, Lucie, held captive and tortured manages to escape her abductors. After 15 years of living only for the chance to gain retribution on those who brutally savaged her, Lucie and her childhood friend, Anna, seek out those responsible for Lucie's unhinged state of mind. Their journey leads them down a path of insanity, wanton despair and violent death.

For the last few years France has been the haven for extreme horror with a slew of releases that have breathed new life into the waning horror genre. Films such as HIGH TENSION (2003) and INSIDE (2007) are among a group of hungry filmmakers splashing their ambitious ideas in bold red brush strokes across cinema screens and television sets. Some of these gruesomely foul flicks from France borrow themes and ideas from American horror films of the glorious decade that was the 1970's and amalgamate them into something unique and often disturbingly fresh and unique.

Pascal Laugier's MARTYRS is one such movie, but totally flies over the heads of any other Euro horror of late. There are many words one could use to describe MARTYRS and many of those could be taken as praise or damnation. It's not an easy film to recommend, nor describe. Nor is it a film for just anybody, nor a film for just any horror fan for that matter. Beautifully shot and meticulously filmed, it's like a nightmare caught on celluloid unfolding before the viewers eyes.

Mere words cannot do the film justice in terms of the cavalcade of depravity that takes place over the course of the most uncomfortable 100 minutes you will see from a picture of recent memory. MARTYRS (2008) joins the ranks of other supremely depressing cinematic experiences like SALO, THE 120 DAYS OF SODOM (1975), CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST (1979) and MEN BEHIND THE SUN (1988). Laugier's movie is the first in years that made me not want to finish watching in one go. Earlier this evening I managed to bring myself to sit down and bear witness to the final 40 minutes of this nauseating, yet mesmerizing movie.

One of the most impressive feats accomplished by the director is that the viewer totally connects (on both a visceral and emotional level) with the main protagonists; especially Lucie, the initial fractured and destroyed soul the film begins with and whose path to bloody revenge we follow along. During the first 50 minutes the viewer is bombarded with numerous shots of disturbing imagery in the form of a disfigured and badly mutilated form of what used to be a woman. This figure haunts Lucie's memory torturing her further. It isn't until later on that it 's revealed just who and what this frightening apparition represents.

Not only has Lucie been through a living hell, but she continuously punishes herself through an agonizing series of self mutilation in addition to attaining her vengeance in one of the most harrowing sequences of violence ever to grace the screen. The viewer is introduced to this family of four and aside from some raucous verbal exchanges between them, they seem like any other seemingly wholesome and financially successful family. What transpires after the sudden and vicious home invasion sequence is beyond words or reasonable sanity.

Once Lucie's appetite for grim retribution has been satiated, the film veers into an even more grim and reprehensible arena of revulsion. Just when the atmosphere couldn't get any more dismal, the audience is hit once again with a continuous slate of broken and destroyed bodies before the hour mark hits and this ostensibly clean cut family home is invaded yet again. What transpires from this point on is a cross pollination of repugnant scenes of cruelty and thought provoking connotations of a religious and allegorical level.

Despite being one of the most uncomfortable movies ever made, it's all brilliantly acted and painstakingly photographed. The films plot never makes itself known till roughly the hour mark once the home of the perpetrators is occupied once more by what appears to be a cult of wealthy and prominent men and women of some repute. Their purpose is explained by the elderly and cold faced Mademoiselle. During this sequence, the films title is also explained.

Prior to this sequence, the audience has been assaulted with a long series of nasty images and disgusting scenes of pugnacity that, upon first glance, appear to be violence for violence sake. The oppressive aura of aggression never slows down even after the film makes its philosophical, yet macabre purpose known. Once Anna has become a 'Martyr in training', we are again thrown into a dark room with nothing but merciless and callous cruelty as our company. However, as the film reaches its doom laden climax, the shock ending leaves the audience to make up their own minds as to the true nature of the final moments and its pitiless meaning.

Pascal Laugier has created a serious horror masterpiece that will be the subject of admiration and acclaim as well as scorn and unquestionable abjuration for years to come. One of the key elements aside from the highly effective performances are the grueling special effects. These (thankfully) practical effects are a breath of fresh air amidst the all too numerous American horror flicks of late that rely on horrendous computer generated "special effects" for their shock value. The scenes of bodily destruction and defilement attain a Cronenbergian level of unpleasantness. Once the films plot rears its metaphysically ugly head, the production transcends its appearance as a far more polished version of HOSTEL (2005) and becomes what is possibly the first ever thinking mans gorefest.

Despite the nature of the picture and its inescapable collage of cruelty, it's a hypnotic and mesmerizing horror film that some will find hard to classify and even harder to actually "enjoy". I doubt anyone with a serious interest in horror can outright say they enjoyed the movie. I don't mean that in a derogatory fashion, either. MARTYRS isn't your average horror film certainly not in the same category as prior French horror films of the last few years and definitely leagues above just about anything released in America in recent years. More of an endurance test, it offers up underlying themes that belie its many scenes of torture and sadism much in the way Deodato's CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST (1979) was about the cruelty the media can create through sensationalism with violent consequences. You will surely not like what you see, you may in fact hate it...but one thing is for certain, you will not soon forget it. Its a groundbreakingly offensive work that should be seen by any serious fan of the horror genre.

This review is representative of the Weinstein Company Unrated DVD.

Assorted Bits & Pieces: Remakes CLASH With Fine Reading & recent DVD purchases

This is a new column that is really nothing more than ramblings of various things I find at other sites, or movies I've recently picked up, or some materialistic film related memorabilia I may purchase.

I had just gotten home from work after a night of near constant rain and wind gusts (it's still raining here), and was pleasantly surprised by a trailer for the upcoming remake to one of my favorite movies, CLASH OF THE TITANS (1981). After viewing the preview, I can honestly say that this is one remake I am actually anxious to go see. Hopefully, the film itself matches up to the intensity presented in this preview. I especially like the metal music accompanying the action. However, I was really hoping for a score to match the wonderful soundtrack for the original film by composer Laurence Rosenthal. Nonetheless, the heavy metal fits the trailer well. With Hollywood dumping modern day rehashes of older, better films at an alarming rate, I am somewhat amped to see how this one turns out. Below is the link to Damin's Information Review Blog where the trailer can be viewed...

Speaking of remakes, has anyone seen the new version of the hit mini series V (1983-1985)? I saw portions of it last week, but it did nothing to sustain my attention. At least the makers saw fit to keep the aliens as lizards. At just 60 minutes in length (!! Why not make it a two hour premier?), the kick off episode had so much going on at once, it was just too much for only an hours worth of television time.

Moving on....

Late yesterday evening I happened to stumble upon a couple of sure fire book purchases that some of the readers here might be interested in. One of them I first heard about from the Temple of Schlock Blog and the other I became aware from Fangoria's website. The first is a 236 tome detailing the entire JAWS saga entitled JUST WHEN YOU THOUGHT IT WAS SAFE : A JAWS COMPANION. Covering the entire series, this book by Patrick Jankiewicz looks to be an insightful read for any JAWS fan...

I became aware of this next book from the Temple of Schlock Blog. Entitled MONDO MANDINGO: THE FALCONHURST BOOKS & FILMS by Paul Talbot, it examines all the extremely popular, yet incendiary and salacious novels dealing with slavery and strife amidst decadent plantations and cruel slave masters prior to the Civil War. The book also delves into the making of the two films based on the Falconhurst novels, the very successful, yet controversial MANDINGO (1975) and its over the top sequel, DRUM (1976), both starring former boxer, Ken Norton. If you're familiar with the movies at all, than this book is definitely worth the purchase.

The Temple of Schlock is also giving away a free signed copy of the book to followers of the site. For those interested, the page and information is linked below...

VENOMS5's recent DVD purchases....

EVIL DEAD 2 (blu ray; $10 at Walmart)
JOURNEY TO THE WEST (2 disc set featuring the four film series of the Shaw Brothers classic fantasy film series: THE MONKEY GOES WEST (1966), PRINCESS IRON FAN (1966), THE CAVE OF THE SILKEN WEB (1967) and THE LAND OF MANY PERFUMES (1968); Australian release.
WRONG TURN 2 (stupid sequel delivers the gore groceries)
NIGHT OF THE CREEPS special edition (Seeing this again, I was kind of let down. I wasn't all that impressed then, and I'm not impressed now, although the film does have some good things going on in it)
BLACULA & SCREAM, BLACULA, SCREAM (I already have the single editions, but this one was just $5 at Walmart with both films together. Both are must own films solely for William Marshall alone. Saw him again on BONANZA the other day playing a discriminated opera singer in which he cuts loose with that deep voice of his)
MARTYRS (review coming up sometime today)
TRICK 'R TREAT (review coming soon even if it has already been reviewed to death by this point)
POLTERGEIST (This film is in dire need of a TRUE special edition DVD release)
BLACKENSTEIN (always wanted to see this. Hopefully it's as funny as DR. BLACK & MR. HYDE with Bernie Casey)
28 WEEKS LATER (intense and good sequel that surpasses the original in my opinion)
BLACK SHEEP (This looked absolutely hilarious. The modern equivalent to ATTACK OF THE KILLER TOMATOES perhaps?)

My escalatingly mammoth HK movie poster & lobby card collection is continuing to grow and I've just recently added an original poster for one of my favorite Venom movies, CRIPPLED AVENGERS (1978) aka MORTAL COMBAT. In addition to that, I also picked up an original poster for Shaw's production of SHAOLIN MANTIS (1978), one of the more unusual kung fu dramatic features. It's the first film of its type I've seen where the hero is also the villain. Some other Shaw and indy kung fu posters rounded out this recent splurge including Shaw's RETURN OF THE DEAD (1979) and ODE TO GALLANTRY (1982).

Until next time....
Related Posts with Thumbnails


copyright 2013. All text is the property of and should not be reproduced in whole, or in part, without permission from the author. All images, unless otherwise noted, are the property of their respective copyright owners.