Saturday, 8 January 2011

Martyrs: A Review

Sometimes I don’t know why I subject myself to the things I do. Having been told that A Serbian Film was one of the worst and most worthless films ever committed to celluloid I duly downloaded it, watched it and was appalled by it. I had no reason to distrust the advice I’d been given but chose to ignore it and got what I deserved. So when a colleague lent me French torture-porn movie Martyrs, I should have known I wasn’t gonna be a massive fan when he warned me that it was ‘pretty extreme’.

Martyrs opens with a young girl – Lucie (Mylène Jampanoï) – escaping from a torture chamber in a mysterious location. Refusing to talk about her ordeal she is taken into care where she meets Anna (Morjana Alaoui), a young girl who goes on to become her protective best friend. As the early part of the plot unravels it becomes apparent that Lucie is still the victim of ongoing abuse – perhaps physical, possibly psychological or maybe even supernatural.

Years later, Lucie storms into an idyllic family home and disturbs their breakfast by blowing them away with a sawn-off shotgun. She’s convinced that they were involved in her abuse and she shows no mercy. Having committed her massacre she calls Anna to join her – just as she is attacked by a vicious female apparition who, as well as looking remarkably like Gillian McKeith, ultimately causes her to commit a blood-soaked suicide. And from there, it all gets a bit ‘Human Centipede’...

The early parts of the film are kind of promising. It’s dark, menacing and mysterious. It straddles the barrier between supernatural and psychological drama pretty carefully and is even pretty well acted. But the quantities of blood are frankly ridiculous and the fact that Lucie isn’t dead prior to her cutting her own throat is miraculous. It’s a bloodshed/watershed moment as it ends the first act of the film. What follows is, quite frankly, astonishingly awful...

Anna discovers that the palatial family home in which five deaths have already occurred hosts a futuristic dungeon filled with implements of torture, photographic records of twisted and abused corpses and a ghoulish half-dead girl. It’s utterly preposterous and hard to credit that following the decent first part of the film the script-writers would make such a massive about-turn.

But things get much, much more implausible. Having attempted – and failed - to rescue the scarred victim she finds underground, Anna is taken captive by a mysterious troop of black-clad interrogators. They shackle her to a chair and proceed to systematically beat and torture her for what feels like approximately three years. It’s pointless and completely boring. Seeing someone suffer systematic abuse is both gruelling and tedious - it made me think of Mel Gibson’s appalling Passion of Christ: not a film I ever want to revisit. I’m confident that most right-minded people will grow heartily sick of seeing a young woman sliced, punched and humiliated for such a prolonged period. The only thing that redeems the sequence is that there is no sexual abuse shown or implied – that really would be a bridge too far.

The justification for all this is some half-arsed storyline involving the martyrdom of young females and the search for enlightenment for a mysterious society of seemingly well-to-do people. It seems like it’s been tacked on and is utterly implausible – but the filmmakers obviously needed an excuse to justify the gratuitous nonsense which preceded it.

Martyrs is a film with about half an hour of good ideas stretched out over 148 minutes. Annoyingly those ideas occur at the beginning of proceedings, thereby hooking the viewer. Despite the latter part of the film being utterly devoid of merit I can imagine that a lot of viewers (like myself) will stick with it in the hope that the director can redeem himself. He can’t. Avoid Martyrs at all costs – unless you’d like to see Gillian McKeith suffer horrific pain and a bullet through the brain.

It's not often i disagree with Dr Mark Kermode, but he seemed to like Martyrs - although he also found it very uncomfortable viewing...


  1. I am building myself up for this...Having said that, I don't know if I could handle the scenes of prolonged brutality. I don't know; I just don't know...

  2. I'm certainly not gonna recommend it. It's gruelling to watch.