Review: MARTYRS

Posted by Peter Hall - March 8th 2009 @ 11:46 pm

Written and Directed by Pascal Laugier, 2008

Watching MARTYRS is like staring into a blast furnace.  Pascal Laugier’s film is a smoldering cell of anger and heat and hate and marvel.  It’s difficult to watch head on and downright painful to endure over time.  To be honest the experience is one I hesitate to recommend.  However, one must be impressed by the effect of it, impressed by its ability to inflict such engineered torment, impressed that the film can survive its own extreme internal pressures.  Laugier’s is an escalation game, vying not to push past boundaries, rather to set up residence on the border itself.  The squirming endurance comes not from how far past the line his content brings the viewer, instead how long Laugier can chain a viewer to the line.

I’d find it a stretch to refer to MARTYRS as entertaining or any derivative there of.  Intriguing is the word.  Films like this urge me to explain HND’s somewhat arbitrary rating system.  I’ve always opted for the A to F grading system all once students in the US should be familiar with.  I’ve never felt that all films adhere to an ordinal ranking system of identical criteria transferable to a number.  I do, however, think that one can surmise what the proverbial assignment was when watching a film.  Any objective person should be able to gleam what a filmmaker was going for.  The A-F grading schema operates on this assumption, which should help explain why I consider both LET THE RIGHT ONE IN and NIGHT OF THE COMET A grade material.  I’ve no idea whether many pay attention to these grades, I preface this only to account for why MARTYRS lands in the blood red B+ range while simultaneously hesitating on a recommendation to even the most iron willed icehearted horror hounds out there.

I’d also like to issue one final qualifier before heading into the review proper.  I do so in a hope to stem the hype MARTYRS gained on the festival circuit last year.  I’ve no doubt that many walked out of screenings or that Pascal Laugier gave one or two humble folk such a gut punch they vomited in the isles.  Just know that far worse footage exists out there.  What makes MARTYRS so brutal is not the extreme makeup but its commitment to never provide a glimpse of salvation.  What makes MARTYRS so disturbing is how casual Laugier is about beating the spirit out of his two lead females.  These are not heroine’s overcoming an ordeal.  These are two complete strangers who got dealt a shit hand, a hand feverish with psychosis.

MARTYRS is the pressure point to INSIDE’s sledgehammer.  Anyone reading this site can stomach the sights within this controversial French film, sights of deep self mutilation and cruel devices.  Understandably not all of us can nor should stomach the sight of a woman repeatedly being stomped like a bass drum, a repetitious segment of the film that takes up nearly the entire final third of the run time.  In its defense, however, there is a method to the film’s rage.  It stokes the fire, each vignette of pain notching the temperature that much higher until the furnace is full blast, our faces invisibly red with the burn.

A brief history about a tortured girl who escaped her confines segues into a present day catch up with said victim on the morning she’s exacting revenge on the people she holds responsible.  She and her double barrel shotgun have marked the heads of a household as the source of her kindertrauma.  Little is spoiled in saying a few blasts later and the entire family has been put down considering the film plays her spontaneous slaughter with an incredulity mirroring the viewer’s own doubt.  Lucie’s sanity is further tested when she starts to see a naked woman with an absurdly scarred frame chasing her throughout the home.  She then calls upon Ana, her sole childhood friend.  Thus the mystery kicks off with the seemingly sane Ana arriving at the side of the assuredly insane Lucie.

I was afraid that Laugier would attempt to maintain the precept of his ‘is Ana insane’ mystery throughout but fortunately he does not.  A mini resolution is reached at which point the film takes an even darker turn towards the onyx recesses of the human mind.  I’ll not spoil where he goes or what the ultimate plot is, but I will confess my surprise.  Laugier’s script provides a demented justification for the desecration of mind, body and spirit that is unexpected and unique.  There are alternative directions that would have provided a more meaningful meditation on the extremes, but Laugier’s path yields a reward that helps soften the exhausting 100 minutes what came before.  Still, it’s a smart script in the end, easily more intelligent than the other recent entries in French viscera (INSIDE and FRONTIER(S)).

Benoit Lestang’s effects work is stunning to say the least.  I’ve no doubt that the film’s final eye opener is what got Pascal Laugier on the short list for remaking HELLRAISER.  It’s certainly selfish and callous of me as a fan of the genre, but its heartbreaking to know Lestang commited suicide before MARTYRS release, thus ending what would have been a perfect marriage of talent and material.  Sigh.

Brilliantly offsetting the accurate savagery is the production design.  Laugier has set his minefield inside a dream home that holds delicately furnished secrets within its antiseptic modern design.  Most of the horror takes place in catalog perfect rooms brightly lit with natural sunlight, a welcome illumination that helps stave off the darkness yet to come.  And when the darkness does come and the house’s secrets are explored, well, its actually some of my favorite horror photography of 2008.

The score is minimal and underplayed save for a few key sequences, which helps keep viewer focus on the powerful performance of its main lead, Morjana Alaoui, whose every quiver shudders with dedication.  Laugier puts her through the gauntlet and the deliverable the comes out the other side is remarkable.  The lasting impression of MARTYRS is that of a one woman show, a deceptive quality brought out by the strength of Alaoui.  The remaining players are all perfectly cast, from the captors whose face we rarely see to the figurehead behind the operation.  Everyone sells it.

As mentioned, the film’s climax takes a route that justifies, in the mind of the film, each and every act of bile perpetrated on both Lucie and Ana.  It’s an original turn and I respect that, however I can envision a route that would have better ruminated on why we the viewers also bore witness to the horrors of the film.  Perhaps I’ll save that spoiler heavy alternative for a separate post, though, as that was obviously not Pascal Laugier’s end game.  He makes no attempt to apologize or justify why he made such a violent film and why there are people who watch such violent films.  That wasn’t his agenda and for me to pretend it was would be moronic.  His agenda was to tell a story whose bleak heart was wholly contingent on mankind’s capacity for absorbing the evil of the world.  I don’t think even the film’s most ardent detractors could attest his goal went unreached.

Does that mean we should all sign up for the ride?  No, of course not.  I can recommend MARTYRS no more than I recommend Nacho Cerda’s even more disturbing short film AFTERMATH.  Both are calculated experiments in film, inspired feats of cinematic engineering I’m obligated to respect, but both are also isolating films that burden nothing resembling enjoyment.

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rss 49 comments
  1. March 9th, 2009 | 11:39 am | #1

    Just watched this one myself and while I enjoyed it, it really seemed like two seperate films to me. I had read that Laugier didn’t have an ending when he first started writing and I think it shows.
    The last part of the film, while not truly as brutal as some other things I’ve seen, seems almost unnecessary in it’s length. I agree with you though, it does turn up the heat making the final moments powerful in their conclusion. Like breathing a really heavy sigh of relief.

  2. R.J. Sayer
    March 9th, 2009 | 12:13 pm | #2

    A?

    REALLY?

    even that laughably awful ending? remember? the ending that insults your intelligence and your emotional investment all in one ridiculously stupid blow?

    and all that hype about the gore? WHAT FUCKING GORE?

    fuck that movie. fuck its histrionic performances and limp, sanitized torture scenes. fuck its snooty art-bitch pretense. fuck its unbelievably sophomoric premise and juvenile, 15-year-old-in-a-creative-writing-class “message.”

    jesus.

    seriously.

  3. R.J. Sayer
    March 9th, 2009 | 12:16 pm | #3

    oh and i’m going to go ahead and say it:

    MARTYRS is a FASCIST film. a MISOGYNIST, FASCIST film. masquerading as feminism and social consciousness.

  4. R.J. Sayer
    March 9th, 2009 | 12:17 pm | #4

    at this point, i really, REALLY regret not finishing my review of this after Screamfest.

  5. March 9th, 2009 | 12:38 pm | #5

    Oh, I don’t think MARTYRS masquerades as anything. I found nothing about it feminist and think it raises no social issues. Quite the opposite, actually. The movie would have worked just as well with two men being beaten, but that wasn’t what Laugier went with.

    It’s misogynistic as hell, which is one of the main reasons I’d not outright recommend it to anyone.

  6. R.J. Sayer
    March 9th, 2009 | 1:19 pm | #6

    well, i disagree there, dude. i wish i was taking notes – because i can’t remember verbatim – but i seem to remember Laugier suggesting something about the films “message” in the introduction clip that preceded the film at Screamfest.

    i could’ve totally hallucinated that, though.

    anyway, i agree with everything that you said in the preamble to your review. but i just don’t see eye-to-eye with your praising of all the filmic aspects. i thought the script was pretty stupid and the FX work was FAR from what i’d call “stunning.”

    and i found that ending to be more insulting than the ending to THE MIST, which you also ate right up.

    so maybe you just like it when people punch you in the nuts and call you stupid.

    or maybe it’s a taste thing.

    tomato, to-mah-to.

  7. March 9th, 2009 | 1:37 pm | #7

    I think the script is only so-so save for its Hail Mary ending. Gotta admit that a cult that tortures people in order to gain insight into a higher world beyond the corporeal is interesting, no? I like it. I don’t like what it implies about the rest of the movie, but that’s for another (hypothetical) post.

    If there is a message to MARTYRS, I missed it.

    The ending to THE MIST is one of the more regrettable bits of editing in ’08, but I’ve got nothing wrong with it on paper. I think it’s a savage Twilight Zone smack down to what is the best Twilight Zone episode that has nothing to do with the Twilight Zone. Twilight Zone.

    Also, regarding the effects work. Her skinless body at the end of the movie is a tremendous triumph of makeup, man. It looks immaculate in HD, I can only assume it looked just as good if not better on the silver screen. The rest is fairly standard scar work, but that last gag is money.

  8. Barry D.
    March 12th, 2009 | 8:00 am | #8

    i think i’ll pass. i watch movies to enjoy them, not endure them.

  9. reptilien
    March 29th, 2009 | 10:22 am | #9

    wonderful review – nice film

  10. March 29th, 2009 | 6:28 pm | #10

    Thanks, reptilien.

  11. Mark Stephenson
    April 5th, 2009 | 2:35 pm | #11

    Like the review, but I thought the final third was the whole point of the film: it’s about misogyny/violence, that is, it’s a depiction of that, but not an endorsement. C’mon: the cult in the final third is such an obvious satire of Christianity’s lengthy, and abiding, reverence for the act of torture (i.e. the crucifixtion)at its heart, which the film renders – that is, the appreciation of that torture as somehow metaphysically meaningful – meaningless through its depiction of that (or more specifically, acts of martyrdom that are modelled on it) as precisely an act of torture.

  12. Ben Olko
    April 8th, 2009 | 1:17 pm | #12

    I watched Martyrs a few days and I’ve been thinking about it and if it has any real meaning.

    Two things that should be noted is that at the very end of the credits reads ‘For Dario Argento’.

    This allowed me to see the film in a different light altogether as I could see this as a homage to Argento through and through.

    Another thing I picked up was on the idea of ‘Existential Despair’. I see this group of people that perpetrated this act as existentialists that wanted to find out if there was indeed something beyond the grave.

    Here’s a quote I picked out off of Wikipedia:

    Each man and each woman creates the essence (meaning) of his and her life; life is not determined by a supernatural god or an earthly authority, one is free. As such, one’s ethical prime directives are action, freedom, and decision, thus, existentialism opposes rationalism and positivism. In seeking meaning to life, the existentialist looks to where people find meaning in life, in course of which using only reason as a source of meaning is insufficient; the insufficiency gives rise to the emotions of anxiety and dread, felt in facing one’s radical freedom, and the concomitant awareness of death. To the existentialist, existence precedes essence; the (essence) of one’s life arises only after one comes to existence.

    Søren Kierkegaard coined the term “leap of faith”, arguing that life is full of absurdity, and one must make his and her own values in an indifferent world. One can live meaningfully (free of despair and anxiety) in an unconditional commitment to something finite, and devotes that meaningful life to the commitment, despite the vulnerability inherent to doing so.[82]

    Arthur Schopenhauer answered: “What is the meaning of life?” by determining that one’s life reflects one’s will, and that the will (life) is an aimless, irrational, and painful drive. Salvation, deliverance, and escape from suffering are in aesthetic contemplation, sympathy for others, and asceticism.[83][84]

    For Friedrich Nietzsche, life is worth living only if there are goals inspiring one to live. Accordingly, he saw nihilism (“all that happens is meaningless”) as without goals. He discredited asceticism, because it denies one’s living in the world; denied that values are objective facts, that are rationally unnecessary, universally-binding commitments: Our evaluations are interpretations, and not reflections of the world, as it is, in itself, and, therefore, all ideations take place from a particular perspective.[73]

    At the end the ‘Madam’ was freed from her desapir so she decided to take her own life. Just some thoughts swirling around in my mind.

  13. Ben Olko
    April 8th, 2009 | 3:00 pm | #13

    Here’s another quick quote:

    The assertion that we ‘live in the best of all possible worlds’ as satirised by Voltaire’s creation of Dr. Pangloss in Candide is possibly relevant here. A person experiencing existential despair generally also believes that they live in the best of all possible worlds – that is, that their situation cannot be improved, and are depressed because their situation feels so bad to them, no matter what an objective, impartial observer may see.

    The ‘Madam’ acknowledges the fact that the world is screwed up and now that she knows the truth she can free herself form this world. That there IS something better so she can end her despair by taking her life and transcending to that better world.

    I don’t know if this makes any sense or if I’m reading too much into it but in looking at it from this perspective it seems to have more meaning. And remember that it’s French and they are the kings of existentialism.

  14. April 9th, 2009 | 4:20 pm | #14

    Ben, I think you’ve extracted some choice points to reinforce the ending of MARTYRS, but I’m not 100% convinced that Pascal Laugier had that much of a master plan. I suppose you’ve exposed a litmus for whether a viewer remains optimistic or pessimistic by the time the credits roll (missed the Argento kudos, btw, so thanks for pointing that out).

    The pessimist, me, viewed it was the Madam blowing her brains out because she learned of the futility of the world and the lack of a world beyond.

    The optimist can see her ending one journey, so to speak, in favor of transcending to the other. I personally like that ending better, but I’m not sure it was within MARTYRS grasp. Were the Madam to genuinely transcend an existential barrier, wouldn’t she have had to go through all that the titular martyrs had been through?

    I think she gave up.

  15. Pavle B
    April 26th, 2009 | 4:52 am | #15

    Benoit Lestang did see the film before his suicide. I read an interview with director in Rue Morgue. Hell tells how Benoit wept after seeing the film.

  16. Mallow
    April 30th, 2009 | 2:05 pm | #16

    this movie absolutely blew me away.

    you keep recommending, i’ll keep buying.

  17. C.A.
    April 30th, 2009 | 6:45 pm | #17

    I loved this movie – i am obssessed with wondering about the ending…I cant decide if Madame killed herself because she was told of the wonders of the afterlife and wanted to get to it or because she was told there is nothing…and she gave up….though if she was told there was nothing then why was there that sequence in the movie where ana sees the bright light etc. as she is hanging by her wrists after being skinned?? And then at the very end why does Madame say to Etienne, “keep doubting”? Keep doubting that there is an afterlife or is it a poor translation and she meant more like ‘keep wondering’ about the afterlife. I just cant piece together why she says that to him at the very end.

  18. James
    May 22nd, 2009 | 9:48 pm | #18

    In response to the last posting, Madame advises Etienne to “keep doubting” and after further observation of the french that she uses, does in fact translate to “doubt”. And because of this I believe that she tells him this because she is aware that it is a question that should not be answered. The knowledge of the afterlife is not for one to know but to believe/doubt. Madame decides that it is not to be known and thus takes the answer with her. I believe that she says doubt because it is essentially what they are doing already. They are creating a “false” martyrdom, which to me says that they have some degree of doubt in their minds. I am in no way making the suggestion that this movie is pro-afterlife nor the reciprocal. I think that I agree with an earlier comment that essentially stated (in my words) “The Atheist will see a pessimistic ending, the Agnostic will continue to ponder and the person of faith will view optimistically”

  19. Timber
    June 2nd, 2009 | 9:08 pm | #19

    Peter:

    Great review. I’ve been trying to decide whether I want to watch this, and I don’t mind that I already know the whole story beforehand. I’m still mulling over whether this is one of those things I’ll want to “un-see,” whether it’s real or not, and having an idea what to expect is sometimes a good thing.

    One question for you or other posters, though: you say that “far worse footage exists out there.” I’ve heard a couple of things mentioned in the IMDB message boards (something about Guinea Pigs and of course Irreversible), but are you talking about horror films or something more experimental?

  20. June 2nd, 2009 | 9:20 pm | #20

    Timber, As far as most horror movies are concerned, the violence in MARTYRS isn’t particularly extreme, it is just abundant. Once you do get into the more experimental territory (or extremely low budget), the imagery does get farther into the “un-see” field.

    What’s impressive about MARTYRS is that it is obvious deep consideration went into the composition of every shot. It’s this staging that stilts the film into more artistic grounds, which balances the visceral nature of watching a woman get beat to complete hell with a (questionably) higher agenda.

    If any of that makes sense.

  21. Axle
    June 3rd, 2009 | 1:34 pm | #21

    Martyrs is an interesting film, disturbing and thought provoking. As a horror movie, it has done its job–which may be the most one should ask of a horror movie. After all, what is the purpose of the horror genre? To be shocked, startled, reviled, disgusted in the safety of one’s family room or the local theater. Entertainment.

    However, it is odd to me how some people seem to find “greatness” in Martyrs. This is not a great film. I do like the acting, the camera work and editing are technically competent, the sound and music good–which quite a few horror films lack! Martyrs is a well-crafted movie in the Hollywood style. (It IS made in the Hollywood style–Media Studies majors get over it…) But, the grand epiphany that supposedly comes through intense and prolonged physical pain as seen in the photographs of other tortured people throughout history, although intriguing, is not supported well enough in the script to overcome my willing suspension of disbelief. The cellar hallway scene, of course, with the Cult’s leader explaining to the main character the need for torture with the photo album (despite the fact that the same larger photos are on the walls next to the actors) is almost comical in its brevity. The film would have been creepier had it delved into the occult and the mysterious efforts of alchemists…or, say, if the secret organization were financed by the Vatican. We’re not told, and I think to the film’s detriment. How can martyrdom be talked about without religion. And, how can torture be rationalized without some self-serving (most would coin this kind of enterprise as evil) intent? Of course, anyone thinking that the male torturer and the others are just “doing their jobs” would probably find “the whole Nazi thing” to be no big deal….

    No. What horrifies me about this kind of film is that it glorifies a false intellectualism that treats graphic torture in a relative light. I’m not as worried about “American Rednecks” loving this film as much as the mildly educated 20-somethings who think that they have stumbled upon something deep in this “wicked Euro-flick”–which they’ll probably buy and place next to their TOOL CDs….

  22. Kam
    June 6th, 2009 | 6:26 am | #22

    and Axle is a prime example of someone worse than those people putting this film “next to their tool cds”…

    He is the typical cynic who thinks he is so much smarter than everyone else. This type of person will usually be “so smart” they can find that a film perceived as clever and intelligent is, in fact, not clever OR intelligent.

    This type of person is the worst type of person.

    Axle, go home.

  23. Heckle
    June 17th, 2009 | 4:15 am | #23

    Kam….Axles at least spoke about and supported what he said in his comment.
    You on the other hand proved his point but saying nothing of importantance and supporting the film
    without any explained reason.

  24. Pamela Isabella
    July 16th, 2009 | 2:53 am | #24

    Being one of the Horror genre’s biggest fans I only watched this film recently. I found other French horrors, such as Frontier(s)/Inside/Haute Tension to be much more “gory”, unsure why people have described Martyrs this way. There was a torture scene sequence which could be “disturbing” to most people, but certainly not gory.

    The whole point of Horror is to make people not want to watch, if people dont enjoy that feeling then horror isn’t for you! Simple.

    I think the repetition of the torture scene is to make the viewer feel that sense of ongoing torture/wanting it to end/nauseated.

    In my opinion this movie was pretty decent, although seems a little disjoined. 1st and 2nd part were completely different tones.

    The ending is still annoying me! Its one of those types you can spend days questioning :)

  25. SpacialSpecial
    July 27th, 2009 | 3:38 am | #25

    Axle has a point, I believe. Just because it’s out of the norm, many people will tend to “find” something deeper about anything, just to push themselves further from that dreaded society that they feel they’re too far above to be placed within.

    I think the movie did it’s job in that it’s disturbing, not gory, but disturbing enough to cause people to want it to end. To feel emotional responses for the character. It was a “good” movie in that sense.

  26. July 31st, 2009 | 8:00 am | #26

    Axel: you really didnt get it, man.

    1) tying it to the vatican would’ve been a cheap move for controversy, and if you’re not really gonna address that connection, why make it? id rather wait see if “the sky is falling” ever gets made than paper-thing ties to something more interesting.

    2) more importantly, the cult leader was on about the very notion of martyrdom without religion, did you miss that bit? the entire old man parade at the end, they were all atheists/agnostics, i believe the film all but said this! aging, wealthy people with no faith and clearly financing this idea of getting a sneak peek at what lies beyond.

    not trying to be rude, but if you’re gonna be smarmy, at least pay attention to what you’re critiquing. anyway, good review here.

  27. Ben Olko
    November 3rd, 2009 | 9:45 am | #27

    You are right IrishNinja!

    Axle missed the point entirely.
    These people were Atheists/Agnostics who wanted to know if the afterlife really existed so they were trying to turn these young women into Martyrs by doing unspeakable acts to them.

    I’ve seen much gorier and terrifying films but I found the tension and disturbing nature of this film much more horrifying. The fact that they do these acts so nonchalantly also adds to level of heartache that you feel for these women. These people are evil yet they truly believe in what they are doing and this sheds a light on the true heart of darkness that resides these people.

    They know exactly what they are doing and that is why this film is so horrifying!

    Also, the fact that I couldn’t imagine be either one of the women or one of the people torturing the women lends an almost surreal level to this film.

    I still say that this film feels like some kind of messed up Giallo in a lot of ways.

  28. November 3rd, 2009 | 9:27 pm | #28

    Quick note on an earlier comment of Peter’s:

    “Gotta admit that a cult that tortures people in order to gain insight into a higher world beyond the corporeal is interesting, no?”

    It is, but I don’t think it’s a new idea; isn’t that description pretty similar to the ethos of the Cenobites in Hellraiser?

  29. November 3rd, 2009 | 10:36 pm | #29

    Yeah, Chris, suffering for ascension isn’t anything new, but it is rare in horror. Not that I agree with it, but there is rarely a higher agenda involved when it comes to putting a person through hell on film – particularly in horror movies.

  30. Al Baker
    November 15th, 2009 | 10:55 am | #30

    This movie has a couple of scenes you should see if you like horror movies. I can’t imagine a horror buff hating this film. I mean, it’s not The Glass Cage, but it has a few potent psychological devices that will creep you out a bit if you think about it. Anna with her invisible ‘enemy’ she’s carted around with her since her treatment by the people she gets revenge on. There are two other scenes as well which are grotesque, and hard to watch. The movie does perhaps take itself a little too seriously. The Glass Cage had a right to take itself seriously, this movie, I’m not sure. They try to overhype the ‘ferociousness’ of the movie — and I guess a young girl getting beaten extensively is ferocious — but it’s trying to hard to shock us. No one’s done the twenty minutes of beating the crap out of a young girl bit before! Let’s try it.

  31. February 23rd, 2010 | 11:21 pm | #31

    MARTYRS left me devastated. I think it is a masterpiece of the genre.

  32. kaxxina
    June 15th, 2010 | 9:18 pm | #32

    I have one word about the ending: WHAT? My guess is that Anna told Mademoiselle that the world beyond is paradise but SOBs who torture young women to find out about it get to go somewhere different… kinda like you get what you give. :) That’s what I like to think anyway.

    Man, I really liked Lucie’s character, so bummer there… and honestly, I want to meet someone who would not only have the idea of prying the metal staples holding a metal blinder to your skull out let alone DO IT! Yikes!

    I also can’t believe they skinned her! Just the look on Anna’s poor face and knowing he had scissors or some sort of tool… ewwwww…. I think the clinical way they treated her was possibly worse than if they enjoyed their work. :/ One thing though, wouldn’t you TRY to talk to them? I mean, all the horror fans know it’s VERY likely to be useless, but wouldn’t you try? That was super creepy too.

  33. michael
    June 24th, 2010 | 2:48 pm | #33

    After a few viewings, I remain lukewarm on Martyrs. I think the photography, the effects, even the palpable mystery and suspense in the first half of the film were grand accomplishments in horror film making, I really do. It’s quite refreshing to see those elements done well in the 21st century, when most other filmmakers will simply recycle formats from other successful movies so as to be “safe.”

    Beginning with the Mademoiselle speech scene, however, I think the plot takes a very poor turn, and the remainder of the movie is brutishly pointless, with no pay-off for the audience. There’s also a glaring plot hole that I can’t get over…

    Mademoiselle mentiones that during the stages of torture, or pain, that the victim will start to hallucinate. How then, can she possibly know when the hallucinations stop and the “real” vision begins? For all she knows, Anna’s vision of the tunnel of light and whatever lay beyond it was a complete fabrication of her brain, compensating for immeasurable pain.

    Seems to me like Martyrs was on the right track, but collapsed under the weight of its own uncertainty down the stretch.

  34. michael
    June 24th, 2010 | 2:51 pm | #34

    kaxxina, i had the same question: why wouldn’t Anna have begged them to stop at some point? after a few times through the movie, however, i have a theory about that.

    my interpretation is that we simply aren’t shown the times that Anna begged for reprieve because it was completely futile, a waste of her breath. so we proceed directly to the aspects of her torture during which she has already accepted that there is no escape.

  35. Mike W
    October 25th, 2010 | 10:02 am | #35

    My two cents – I think the ending was genius. Very much like the ending to the Sopranos series.
    Very ambiguous and leaving a lot of room for thought & discussion. We are used to movies having nice, neat endings where everything is fully explained & our curiosity is satisfied. This movies leaves us free to draw our own conclusions and creates a buzz that makes people want to see the film to form their own opinions. Ultimately, the ending is irrelevent because we can never truly know the secrets of the afterlife (or lack thereof) while we are alive.

  36. Elliot
    October 27th, 2010 | 11:59 am | #36

    A very good review by the way. I saw it last night after it was recommended by a mate of mine a few months ago. I am a huge horror fan and I wanted to get in the Halloween mood. Blimey! I wasn’t expecting that! I thought it was a very good film, not at all Americanised, thank god, and I was hooked from the start.

    I do think it’s hard to get horror films right, and the offerings from America have been somewhat substandard over the years, but, along with Eastern horror films, European horror is where horror is taking new direction.

    I agree that we’ve seen similar story veins like Martyrs before, but what got me hooked was that I totally did not know where it was going. I changed my opinion of Lucie and Anna so many times in this film, and that’s the reason why I liked it. I was totally involved. And that is what I want in a film.

    P.S The violence in it is completely justified, considering the back story.

  37. James
    November 27th, 2010 | 3:15 pm | #37

    I saw this movie in theatres in France before it was notorious, which was pretty intense since I didn’t know what to expect. That being said, the first scene was absolutely amazing, but I thought everything else was frivolous and not scary at all. There is some intelligence and skill in the writing, but I feel like the closer a film gets to having a seriously considered story, the harder it fails since it completely removes the false validity of humour. It takes itself more seriously and thus looks all the more ridiculous when it is just short of the mark. Just my opinion/explanation as to why myself and others didn’t like it.

  38. Nick
    January 15th, 2011 | 12:59 am | #38

    THE ENDING OF MARTYRS… YESSS it is answerable…
    1… Look at Mademoiselle eyes and mouth expressions when she is told about the other side… I see her Eyes fill with fear and her jaw drop in shock…
    2. When Mademoiselle tells the guy on the other side of the door to Keep DOUBTING she says it in a way as she wishes she had not know the answer and doubt is much better the the truth… what she knows does not bring peace to her heart at all but torment… and then she kills herself not with any sign of Joy of going to the other side instead she kills herself as if she surrenders to what awaits her… She states it’s clear as crystal as if she has no doubts on what awaits her on the other side… But she tells the guy to Doubt as if its better not to know… Because if you knew it you would not want to know it because it’s hellish news… If it was good news would you not think she would have been excited to tell her friends or die peacefully…
    3. So what awaits Mademoiselle… Could it be Karma or Revenge… Lucy got her revenge with her killers and Anne will get hers but not by anna but something more powerful***
    remember Mademoiselle takes off her her makeup and wig as if she is surrendering to death…
    4. So what hidden message does this director leave us with in this sick and demented movie “I do believe evil like this does exist just look up the NWO on rense.com conspiracy website” well you need to watch the credits and listen to the song… This I consider part of the movie… But most people never stay for the credits… during the credits you see anna and lucy throwing sticks and playing together… HEAVEN.. but before the credits you see anna lifeless body and her eyes looking up but what is that creepy sound effect and who is the witness that sees the things going on in Anna’s eyes it her or is it spirits/karma… then the credits show that She has gone to a happier place with the only person she has ever loved Lucy… Playing together with no sign of any abuse…
    THE SONG answers the big question… “I will do anything… I have seen where you been… The bruises and Cuts… I will do anything… Ghosts from the past.. The pain will go away… YOUR EYES… Give up everything… I seen through this hell… Your eyes
    I have seen through the Hell… Your Eyes… Your Eyes” As if the spirit of the universe has lived though the your eyes and it knows what you have been through and Mademoiselle will pay for her evil doings… And so will everyone their… So why would she want to tell her friends they will pay for their sins…
    ***PS: one last note after the gun fire is shot you see anna’s dying “DEAD” body and the sounds of what sounds hell opening its doors… But its not for Anna’s Soul… She was like a Saint…
    Oh ya if a Martyr is a witness… Like a witness to a crime… then you know who’s punishment awaits…

    Great Horror Movie… But I don’t Ever want to see it Again… :)

  39. Katie
    January 29th, 2011 | 7:52 pm | #39

    i’m a big fan of horror films and am rarely if ever shocked by them, this film really disturbed me. i can deal with gore etc but the torture scenes in this are really shocking, thought it was a good film really well done and so beyond normal horror films but would not watch it again as i found it really upsetting.

  40. mellissa
    June 20th, 2011 | 12:56 pm | #40

    The fact that only Lucy “sees” a dead girl (in a similar fashion as schizophrenic symptoms) tells the viewer that obviously this is in her mind. The fact the the cult leader states that torture and depravation causes it’s victims to “see” things that are not really there tells the viewer that these things are of the mind and that shock and pain can cause hallucinations. The mind is a powerful thing. . .a seemingly put together person can scare themselves by “hearing” voices when alone at home in the dark or “seeing things” out of the corners of their eyes when under stress. This can also lead the viewer to wonder at the end of the movie if the things the victims are “seeing” are a glimpse into the afterlife, and if so, it would definitly not be what the cult leaders are hoping for.
    When Anna is in her final “stage” and she sees the white light, it seems that many viewers don’t notice that the “white light” begins and sits in her eyes – literally IN her iris. The viewer can actually see it themselves. I think, this is supposed to let you know that what she sees is within herself. It’s inside of her and no where else outside of the body or other-worldly.
    I myself like to believe in an after life as it seems to comfort me and give me a sense that things matter – that there is a point to life. I’d like to believe that Anna saw “something” but I don’t think she did. I think her body was overcompensating in a scientific manner – as if she was in shock and that’s it.
    I think the cult leader killing herself was really an unfortunate ending, because it seems not to make any sense. At first the viewer may think that she is killing herself because she wants to experience the afterlife (if perhaps Anna told her how blissful and wonderful it is if it were to exist). On the other hand, that thought is contradicted by the cult leader stating “keep doubting” before killing herself. The cult leader is an extremely selfish person in that she is willing to sacrafice and torture innocent people for her own needs, so perhaps she says “keep doubting” to her followers because she wants them to continue doing “research” to make sure there is an afterlife OR she doesn’t want them all to kill themselves so that she and only she can go on to experience the afterlife before them? That doesn’t really seem to make sense. I don’t think she kills herself out of remorse. . .for instance, if Anna states that there is no afterlife, I don’t think it upsets the cult leader into wanting to die (she wants to experience life ultimately). I think she kills herself because she realizes that their “might” be an afterlife and perhaps it’s better than this one, but she’s unsure and wants her “research” to continue.

  41. Dave S.
    December 22nd, 2011 | 7:54 pm | #41

    “He that breaks a thing to find out what it is has left the path of wisdom.” -Gandalf Grayhame, “Lord Of The Rings”

  42. Bob
    January 8th, 2012 | 11:00 pm | #42

    I think Nick nailed it.

  43. Corimarie
    January 21st, 2012 | 5:03 pm | #43

    I just saw this movie 2 days ago and all I have to say is it was freakin fantastic! I loved every second of it, especially the end! I 100% agree with nick about the ending. Also, this movie I felt was not your typical horror film. It did have a bit of a hostel vibe but I thought it was much much better! I’ve seen every horror brutal film you can imagine . I am a TRUE HORROR FAN that appreciates every little thing this director incorporated in this movie. Loved it! Two thumbs up:)

  44. Jora
    February 23rd, 2012 | 3:24 am | #44

    I just finished watching this and was broken-hearted to read that Benoit Lestang killed himself, especially after watching him work in the “making of” featurette.

    As for the film, I think Nick (post # 38) nailed it too.

    I enjoyed the film very much! I was intrigued & disturbed. I thought it was beautifully done.

  45. K
    June 6th, 2012 | 3:03 am | #45

    Yeah, Nick nailed it with his points 1 and 2 (post 38). It was crystal clear to me from Mademoiselle’s language and behavior that Anna’s “message” was not hopeful…

    Beyond that, though, I took from it that whatever Anna said to Mademoiselle destroyed her faith in the afterlife, whether heaven or hell…The REAL horror in this movie is that all of that torture was done in the name of absolutely nothing, and Mademoiselle knew it. Human beings have constructed the supernatural, an amazing brain-generated illusion new in evolutionary history. This concept of a “beyond” gives us both unlimited hope, unlimited ability to experience suffering, and unlimited capacity to inflict pain on each other. I can think of no more absurdly tragic demonstration of this than the ending of this movie.

    I think the ending redeemed what would otherwise have been a banal gore flick.

  46. Axel
    July 1st, 2012 | 5:35 pm | #46

    I think the movie was fantastic. Me and my family rented it and ever since the night we watched it, we’ve been asking my dad to get the movie again.

  47. Kevcking
    January 15th, 2013 | 1:21 am | #47

    People seem to not see what I have seen in this film. The ending has such humor to it. In the end, the viewers who are intense and strong enough to stomach the increasing torture and unsettling images are rewarded with absolutely nothing!

    The entire film builds to an ending not shared with the viewer. The victim/protagonist is put through a living hell for the entertainment of the viewer and she sees “the other side” that no one has ever seen or explained before. When the big reveal is about to arrive…. f*ck you, go home, nothing to see here. Brilliant and hilarious.

  48. February 11th, 2013 | 8:41 pm | #48

    I like what you said about wishing the story could go on and offer some more explination to all the torture. I watched this movie and it felt like a two act play. It could have ended with Lucie and been a short story, or it needed to keep going and bring some sense back into the plot. But maybe nonsense was part of the message.
    I reviewed this flick to on my blogspot. I’d love to hear some feedback on my review.

    http://horrormoviemedication.blogspot.com/2013/02/martyrs-its-type-of-movie.html

  49. Devlin
    April 11th, 2013 | 3:16 am | #49

    Interesting thought I had. Given Anna’s mental state by the time Mademoiselle asks her what she’s seeing, wouldn’t it be intriguing if Anna lied in a last act of spite? There’s NO evidence to support this and I’m definitely wrong, but the idea seems hilarious to me.

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