Every once in a while, there comes a film in the horror genre that stands out among anything else. A film that defies any and all expectations. A film that pushes limits and serves up surprises around every turn. Most importantly, such a film that offers substance, meaning and purpose behind the shock and grittiness that many find difficult to watch. The original 2008 Martyrs directed by Pascal Laugier is one such film.
After seeing the French-Canadian film’s title appear time and again among horror connoisseur circles, my curiosity was sparked. Taking a closer look, I discovered the plot centers around two child abuse victims taking revenge. This didn’t seem special in any way. However, it managed to win 7 out of the 8 awards for which it was nominated. So why all the praise? After all, I can’t count how many revenge-driven horror films that have been made. Most, if not all such films, end the same way. The victim turns the tables on the tormentor coming out on top with a gruesome, bloody finale. Roll credits. However, my attention came back to the title. What does revenge have to do with martyrdom?
Opening with Lucie Jurin, a young traumatized girl, dramatically escaping apparent brutalizing captivity, my attention was instantly captured. More questions as to what direction the film would take began to fester. Cutting to an investigation of the facility where Lucie was held, the conditions of her captivity are described. Relief comes when it is made clear that rape was not involved. However, one thing remains unclear: Who were the perpetrators and what motive could they possibly have for such an act?
The film cuts to a scene where Lucie is in an orphanage where she meets her friend, Anna Assaoui, who is also a victim of child abuse. At this point, I begin to think of a Natural Born Killers theme where the two girls may grow up and go into a random killing spree rampage. This thought lasts about two seconds with the scene that follows: a ghoulish, scarred and emaciated young girl seems to be haunting Lucie while she’s awake. Now I begin to think there could be a supernatural aspect intertwined in the plotline. Fifteen years later, Lucie bursts into the home of a family and unloads a shotgun. And this is where the story truly begins.
Due to some of its content, some have placed Martyrs into the same shock-horror category films such as A Serbian Film. While some scenes may cause many to wince, shock does not seem to be the intent, which may put some hardcore horror fans off. Though pushing the boundaries is not this film’s goal, substance can be found within the story itself. Just as questions were gradually suggested, the answers the film reveals are deeper than expected, taking a direction you will not see coming.
With outstanding performances by Mylène Jampanoï as Lucie, and Morjana Alaoui as Anna, Martyrs cuts straight to the point of forcing intended questions into the minds of the audience. This horror-drama will hold your attention with plenty of visuals as the story unfolds at high speed, giving the mind little time to wander. And what does revenge have to do with martyrdom? This is one of the many reasons that makes Martyrs worth seeing.