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Martyrs 
Written by: on February 10th, 2009

Theatrical Release Dates: May 2008 (France, Cannes Film Festival), 19 August 2008 (Germany, Fantasy Filmfest), 24 August 2008 (London, UK, Frightfest), 25 September 2008 (Austin, USA, Fantastic Fest).
Approximate running time: 97 minutes.
Aspect ratio (Video format): 1.85:1.
Certification: -16 (France, re-rating on appeal), -18 (France, original rating), 18 (Switzerland, canton of Geneva), 18 (Switzerland, canton of Vaud), K-18 (Finland, self applied), 18 (Germany, SPIO/JK, uncut), 18 (UK).

Director: Pascal Laugier.
Producer: Frédéric Doniguian, Marcel Giroux, Richard Grandpierre, Simon Trottier.
Writing credits: Pascal Laugier (screenplay).
Cinematography: Stéphane Martin, Nathalie Moliavko-Visotzky.
Music: Alex Cortés, Willie Cortés.
Cast: Morjana Alaoui, Mylène Jampanoï, Catherine Bégin, Robert Toupin, Patricia Tulasne, Juliette Gosselin, Xavier Dolan-Tadros, Isabelle Chasse.


Perhaps there is something such as “a new French wave” in horror. Anyhow, Martyrs is a film pretty much in the same vein as modern French hits Switchblade Romance and Calvaire, but considerably less intelligent than Lemming. Martyrs is not the easiest film to review since the story (if “story” is an applicable word here, that is) is thinner than air. And in addition to the next to non-existent story, the piece is almost devoid of dialogue. Martyrs is – from the first minute until the last – steeped in gore and non-stop violence. Does a film like this have a purpose? Let’s see if we can sit down and work through an analysis.

The film opens in 1970s’ France. Lucie (Mylène Jampanoï), a young girl, escapes from the slaughterhouse where she has endured torture and mental terror. In hospital she meets Anna (Morjana Alaoui), another victim of violence, and the two girls form an inseparable bond. Fifteen years later they are on the trail of those responsible for Lucie’s abduction, but what they soon discover is far more terrifying than they ever had anticipated. The real horror is beginning with the introduction of a sect that is seeking information about the afterlife beyond this world. In order to retrieve that info, these evil men and women are specialized in torture and abuse. When their victims have so-called near-death experiences, the secret of the world beyond is supposed to be communicable.

The biggest problem with Martyrs is that its director tries too hard to shock and scare, and therefore he appears to have forgotten intrigue and character development. With the benefit of hindsight, a film like House of 1000 Corpses suddenly looks like a masterwork in comparison.

I do want to give the director some credit as well, for his great Hitchcockian shot that Hitch himself would have been proud of: the long zooming-in-zooming-out of the universe beyond seen through the pupil of an eye. That marvelous take echoes the title sequence from Vertigo.

The color scheme in Martyrs consists of dark shades throughout. If blood was redder than red in the horror movies of the Technicolor days, blood here (tons of it!) is black as pitch. Add to that the subdue lighting and the dizzying non-stop use of the shaky-cam technique. If it’s gore you want it’s gore you get. Disconnect your brain and sit back. The original premise is interesting: to find out what the afterlife is like – but in spite of the deep premise, the result is the thinnest of films.

The official website for Martyrs can be found here.

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