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Martyrs (2008)

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Plot Summary:
"Lucie's been missing for over a year when she is finally found by the side of the road, mad and clearly unbalanced, unable to tell whats happened or whos responsible. The police promptly find a derelict slaughterhouse. Every indication shows Lucie had been there and never left the cold room in which she was imprisoned. No evidence of sexual abuse to bring the police closer to the one responsible, makes this a difficult task to uncover whats happened and how the child escaped."

Review by
Ryan McDonald
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Review Date: 26 March 2013 My Rating: out of 5


Lucie (played as an adult by Mylène Jampanoï) has never gotten over her rough childhood where she was apparently locked up and subjected to abuse. She eventually escaped and ended up in an orphanage where she met and formed a bond with Anna (played as an adult by Emmy Rossum lookalike Morjana Alaoui). Cut to fifteen years later and Lucie has just broken into the supposed home of her one-time tormenters and their kids. She does away with them all, and then calls a concerned Anna to come meet her. And then Lucie is attacked by a deformed, naked figure. Or is this just a figment of Lucie’s demented mind? Did she even target the right family with her vengeance? Believe me, you ain’t heard the half of it yet.

Written and directed by Pascal Laugier, this 2008 French-Canadian horror pic surprised me quite a bit. I had heard it was a so-called ‘torture porn’ film, which isn’t my kind of deal. However, although relentlessly grim, it’s anything but ‘torture porn’, because what is going on here is not something that the characters nor audience are meant to ‘get off’ on. There’s something altogether different going on here, and the torture is for a deeper and darker purpose than simple sadistic gratification.

I’ll grant you that the final third is less interesting than the rest (the opening is certainly unsettling and compelling), but it never quite crosses the line into “Hostel” territory (Get it? Shut up, I’m hilarious). Hell, for the most part it plays more like a 70s grindhouse film mixed with Alexandre Aja’s underrated “Haute Tension” (which would’ve been a great film if not for the 11th hour twist), and maybe Brian De Palma’s “Sisters”.

It’s well-shot in a gritty and blood-soaked kind of way. And just as you think it’s going to be a one-note exercise, something happens to turn things on its head, and that happens more than once. So with all the twists and turns, you can never quite be sure where it’s headed, even if you think you might have it worked out, you’re likely going to be wrong.

Aside from maybe being ten minutes too long, the only flaw with the film for my money is that the characters all seemed to have nine lives. That seemed a tad cheap and silly to me.

I’m not sure it’s the most entertaining film in the world, exactly, but this is still strong and interesting stuff for those who can take it. It’s brutal, blood-soaked, and unflinching, but I got a lot more out of this film than the one-note ‘torture porn’ I was expecting. If it’s ‘torture porn’, then it’s ‘torture porn’ with a brain, and the ending will certainly cause debate. How many ‘torture porn’ films can you say that about? Personally, I just think of it as an effective, unpleasant horror film that isn’t as single-minded as you might expect.

It’s a well-done film for what it is. Whether what it is will appeal to you, or if it even has merit, is up for the individual to decide. I found it effective.

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