31 Days Of Hell: Martyrs

We begin our celebration of Halloween with a review of Martyrs.

"Mommy!! Timmy threw jelly
on my shirt and took my pants!"
Not only is Martyrs exceptional horror, but it is also a work of film making genius.

If you are a fan of films or just horror films, you have already seen Martyrs. If you haven't, there is something terribly lacking in your life. My name is Apostle Jesse and I am here to tell you about our Lord and Savior, Martyrs. I am generally not very fond of the horror genre, not by definition, but by design. Horror sells very easily regardless of quality. It's why the genre is stacked so heavily with crap, so the bar is perpetually kept low. Most horror films throw some boobs in there, cut them off, and feed them to children, banking entirely on topping the last gross out film we showed off to our friends. Martyrs is just as much cerebral and emotionally reeling as it is savagely violent. You get the whole package here—not just the gore.

Lucie, played by Mylene Jampanoi, is a girl profoundly traumatized in her pre-teens from a kidnapping and extreme torture. Morjana Alaoui plays the older version of Anna who befriends Lucie and tries desperately to help her move on. Lucie swears to find the people who ruined her life and get the revenge she needs while Anna clings blindly to the hope of saving her from herself before it's too late. The performances of these two women are nothing less than jaw-dropping. Jampanoi and Alaoui are so fragile and visceral here that I have to guess that it wasn't particularly a "fun" experience to make the film. It's legitimately exhausting to watch. Director, Pascal Laugier, in several interviews expressed how tough it was for himself and his leads to get them to cry every day on set. The mental and emotional extremes the characters fight through are incredible to behold. It's very hard to separate the emotion on display from the business of film making and remind yourself that these are just actors. These girls really aren't Lucie and Anna, right? Like, they're just doing this for the movie?

"Timmy! Give your sister back
her pants and bring
me more jelly!"
It's challenging to do justice to how perfectly each element of the film locks together. Pascal Laugier's direction and writing, coupled with the women's performances is a masterful work to experience. I've never in my life seen a horror director so in tune with his characters, the writing and his actors. Laugier said he wanted to make a film about what human pain means and where it comes from. Born from Lucie's trauma, her brain concocts a terrifying personification of her pain that she believes can be alleviated or erased through vengeance. This "thing" continues to shadow her through her life. Throughout the film she is at constant odds with appeasing this symbol of her pain while Anna tirelessly tries to help Lucie through blind love and loyalty. But is it real? Is it all in Lucie's head? Is she beyond saving? Will Anna ever give up on her? Laugier marvelously captures the battle of the hero complex versus the tortured victim. Both Anna and Lucie are entirely helpless with or without each other. Lucie's obsession and Anna's love are an unstoppable force and an immovable object, respectively. The bloody chaos and emotional whiplash can imbue upon the viewer an actual nausea or other physical symptoms of stress. So, be warned if you haven't seen this. It is not something you generally would invite your friends over for. I wouldn't exactly categorize the film as conventional entertainment.

This is all merely the first act, however. Martyrs, is a multi-layered film both sequentially and philosophically. The division of acts is deliberately punctuated with each piece showcasing a fresh progression of the story. While the acts have definitive closes, the breather time leaves you teetering on a jagged new edge. Yeah, you might have time to wind down a bit, but for how long? What is it going to show me now? How much further could they possibly go after that? It will constantly surprise you, taking sharp turns in your brain, piling on one piece of the psychological puzzle after another. It's easy for someone to label this as torture porn which would be insulting and laughably inaccurate. Martyrs evolves into something significantly larger and more menacing as it goes. That something is going to remain entirely omitted from this review and left for you to discover.

"Alright. Hand over all your jelly
and give me your pants.
Sweet vengeance is finally mine!!!"
Going into Martyrs I honestly had no idea what I was getting into. I wasn't told anything about it. I didn't know anything about it. I didn't watch any trailers and I didn't do any reading. I had merely seen it at a Blockbuster several years ago. It was one of those films I'd pass by for several months thinking I might take it home of these days. Beside this review, I advise you go into the film as fresh as I did. Martyrs, obviously, will not be for everyone. It is without question one of darkest films ever made, but what elevates Martyrs above other horror films is that it is also the saddest and most psychologically intricate film I've ever seen as of this writing. It is the only horror film to bring me to tears.

Many of you aren't familiar with our Bloody Bullet score. It is our "10." It doesn't mean the film is perfect, which I believe Martyrs actually is, but that's not why I'm awarding it our highest rating. I've never seen a film dive as deep into the psychological clockwork of a tormented mind and symbolize their pain so disturbingly well. Not only does it explore the darkest corners of the psychotic mind, but it breaks down the walls of the corner to find out what's buried underneath the foundation. This and so much more is why I consider Martyrs to be the greatest horror film made to date.

-J.G. Barnes