SCREENED AT FANTASTIC FEST 2008: Perhaps the best thing I can say about Pascal Laugier’s 'Martyrs' is that I could hardly sit through the thing.The first half is uncomfortable in the strictly visceral sense, as two young women (Morjana Alaoui and Mylène Jampanoï) lay siege to a peaceful home in the French countryside and proceed to lay waste to the seemingly harmless family within. It’s one hell of a way for Laugier to open his film, and he keeps the tension up by introducing one character’s unseen tormenter and keeping either’s motives hush-hush until the film takes what could, and should, only be described as a Hard Left Turn halfway through. From there, the discomfort stems from a more grueling depiction of what is so commonly held as “torture porn”. It’s a nearly numbing, but convincingly unnerving experience, and the purpose behind any and all manner of violent extremes comes to the forefront just in time to cast all that came before it in what can safely be called a divisive light…
Unlike the similarly intense but tonally maintained Inside, this French export is a mighty difficult film to discuss, for fear of spoilers, but as a work of horror, trust me when I say that it’s written and directed by Laugier with precise pacing that knows just when to surprise and relieve its audience and a relentless eye for the beautifully grotesque, and for anyone to write off this effort as mere torture porn is dismissing the ideas behind it – which themselves might prove more frightening than any of the haunting imagery he conjures up – not to mention the few but critical performances that are never less than believable in their endurance as villain and victim roles shift, while new characters bring new pains to the table.In the end, Laugier wants viewers to think as much as they cringe, and like it or not, it’s hard to deny that both goals are accomplished in fair measure. 'Martyrs' is quite the brisk, brutal outing, technically adept in every regard and motivated by something more than crunched numbers and the bottom line, and at a time where meek remakes rule the roost, it packs the kind of uncompromising punch that genre fans fear/hope that some filmmaker might actually achieve. I’m not sure that I love 'Martyrs', but I sure as hell respect it, if only (though not only) for making me flinch like I haven’t in ages.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2008 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2008 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: Fantastic Fest 2008 For more in the Fantastic Fest 2008 series, click here.