It begins with a whisper – then there’s some buzz – then there’s a friend who knows someone who knows someone else who has seen it. Word has it that the movie is awesome, and that is when it transforms into something more than just another horror flick, that it when it becomes a legend.
The one thing that makes being a horror fan so awesome is the hunt, the search for the holy grail of gore. Every producer in town promises it, every director thinks they have achieved it and the fact of the matter is that there is only one – maybe two horror movies every year that transcend greatness and earns the right to use the word “legend” in the same sentence as its title.
MARTYRS is this year’s INSIDE, both films which are legendary in their own right.
France. A night at the beginning of the 1970s. Lucie, a little girl missing for over a year, is discovered wandering by the side of a country road. Near catatonic, she can say nothing about what has happened to her. The cops quickly find the place in which she’s been incarcerated – a disused slaughterhouse. Every indication is that she never once left the empty, freezing room in which she was imprisoned. Filthy, starving, dehydrated, the child’s body nonetheless bears no traces of sexual abuse – this was no pedophile abduction, but something far stranger. What happened in that icy room? And how did Lucie escape?
The first comparison that will come out of everyone’s mouth is that MARTYRS is the next INSIDE, which it is. Both films are from France, but films are insanely violent, both films will give you nightmares and both films kick ass, but it must be known that there is a major difference between the two films. INSIDE is fun and literally is like a Disney movie in comparison to how tough MARTYRS is to watch.
Pascal Laugier brings us another blood-soaked horror film, only it’s not quite as over-the-top as INSIDE. Most of the gore is organic to the development of the story and not placed in their for mere shock value. Laugier, who also wrote the screenplay, seems to have been heavily inspired by Clive Barker (especially HELLRAISER), HOSTEL and ROSEMARY’S BABY. To go into depth would ruin the outcome of the film, but what can be said is that the conventional twists are used as plot points and not meant to be the saving grace of the film. There is nothing worse than the way a movie like Shyamalan’s SIXTH SENSE plays out because your entire opinion of the film is based on whether or not the final seconds rattled your brain. In a sense, the entire movie can completely suck so long as the end is a “shocker”. What makes MARTYS so extraordinary is that the story unfolds using the twists of a typical movie, only they’re just a tool to transition to the next scene and don’t make or break the film.
What makes MARTYRS work is Laugier’s methodical unfolding of the story. What he does is give us a “glimpse” into the world of the torturer(s) so when the protagonist returns to the scene of the crimes, the viewer knows “kind of” what to expect, which makes them have to endure it with the lead character. Sometimes knowing what’s coming is more difficult than watching it unfold. By the end of the film MARTYRS becomes immensely uncomfortable, and making it through the final 30 minutes is a tough task.
It took an entire 24 hours for the movie to sink in and really left a dent in this reviewer’s psyche. After it was all said and done MARTYRS is really quite an exquisite experience – it’s so incredibly rare when a horror film is so engaging that it can feel as if you’re right there with the protagonist. The only negative thing about Laugier’s film is that once you see it, you’ll never be able to see it for the first time ever again…