Synopsis: Lucie is a pre-teen girl that has recently escaped a horrific ordeal of torture at the hands of mysterious captors. She is brought to an orphanage to be treated and befriends Anna, yet she is still haunted by an apparition that reminds her of her captivity. Fifteen years later, Lucie is convinced that she has found her captors and attacks the family. Anna tries to keep her sane and safe, but things soon spiral out of hand, and Anna learns the true horror behind Lucie’s imprisonment.
Killer Scene: Like Inside, an earlier French horror film covered in the 31 Days of Horror, Martyrs comes with more than its fair of shocking moments. However, the one that hits home most is when Lucie first confronts the family she believes is responsible for her childhood ordeal. It’s not unpredictable, but it is a powerful moment of revenge.
Violence: While it would hardly fall into the category of “torture porn,” Martyrs is filled with scenes of human suffering. There are several bloody and explosive on-screen kills, committed with guns and knives. There’s also lingering scenes of abuse and torture. The human body is put through a lot in this film, and it gets more intense as the movie plays out. There’s a lot of blood on the hands, feet, face and floor, though surprisingly necessary to tell the story. And we are asked: how important is skin really?.
Sex: There’s no sex per se, though there is quite a lot of female nudity. The problem from the sexual arousal angle is this nudity comes in the form of psychotic apparitions and victims of abuse and torture. It’s not a turn on (at least for most members of the audience), though it does technically contribute to this category.
Scares: At the beginning of the DVD, director Pascal Laugier apologizes to the audience for watching his film. This is classy and hilarious – and totally necessary. Martyrs is not the most shocking movie I’ve seen by far, but it does get under your skin with its disturbing nature. It’s not a movie that has the overt scare moments (i.e., you won’t jump when a black cat leaps out of the shadows or anything). Most of the unease you’ll feel in this film will be more psychologically disturbing… a certain degree of wondering if what happens in the film is possible.
Final Thoughts: After seeing films like Inside, Irréversible and now Martyrs, I’m convinced that the French are some screwed up people. In this decade, this country has delivered some of the more thought-provoking and viscerally disturbing films. Part of Laugier’s intent when making this film was to turn the horror genre on its ear and keep the audience guessing. I’ll give him credit in that Martyrs kept me guessing. It was refreshing to see a film that changed its tone and focus effectively throughout. It wasn’t as disturbing as I was led to believe it would be, but Martyrs is a powerful thriller that is fantastically unique.