So far, if you’ve seen any of my work as a writer, it’s been a horror film. One of three. And I’ve written volumes about why I think horror is not only a genre worth the same respect as any other, but it’s actually one where you can say more or address subjects in a way that you might otherwise never dare. Horror, in the right filmmaker’s hands, is art that pushes you to a visceral response, so you feel something. That rush. That’s what sends horror junkies back to the theaters, searching for the real red stuff.
“Martyrs” is a film that will most likely piss you off. It is a film that pushes buttons, a film that is filled with imagery so extreme that you can barely look at it. If you’ve been following French horror over the last few years, it’s really become a force to be reckoned with. There’s a real scene happening over there now, something in the air, and people are making some really impresssive genre-benders. It would be possilbe to describe a sequence of “Martyrs” as torture-based. But I think there are people who will tune out when this film’s real heart of darkness is laid bare, and they won’t watch any further. That’s a shame, because what follows is not a tale designed to titillate, but instead to offer one of the most perverse displays of God’s hand in man’s affairs since “Breaking The Waves” rang some bells. Pascal Laugier is a huge talent. If you want to read an interview with him about this film and about his next movie, a bigger budget Hollywood remake of “Hellraiser,” check out an interview regular contributor The Northlander just submitted at Ain’t It Cool News.
I thought “Martyrs” started intense, but eventually became more sad, personal, heartbreaking. The film opens with two young women breaking into a home, just as a family is finishing breakfast, and the two girls take the house over and then everything goes totallybatshthaywire, and lots of terrible terrible things happen, and that’s like fifteen minutes of the movie or so. And after an assault like that, you’re just sort of rocked. And then a lot more horrible things happen, and you have to work out what exactly is happening, and once you do, Laugier suddenly games you. Hard. And then the film finally gets just plain ugly.
And yet in that, there is light. In the twists of this film, I think Laugier works towards something great, something that gives the film a purpose to the awful, merely by raising the question: can there be any real purpose to suffering? Can that ever be a good thing? Laugier’s answer is bold and original, and immediately after seeing it, I had to have an hour-long conversation about what I thought it meant with someone who read the film differently. And as we talked about it, we realized we were really wrestling with these ideas. It wasn’t just a horror film designed to shock and then be done… this one lingers.