Martyrs (2008): B
I changed the grade on this flick three or four times. I started in the “C” range, but the more I thought about it, the more I had to admit that there was a bunch of stuff that stuck with me, and that counts for a lot.
I was made aware of this French indie on one of those “movies that shouldn’t be viewed” lists, and there is certainly a large segment of the population to which Martyrs would be UV (Unviewable). This movie is fucking brutal. However, unlike something like Hostel or other “torture porn” of that ilk, there is something to the pain that’s inflicted on the two unfortunate “martyrs.” It’s done for a purpose, not for sadist enjoyment. I finally settled on a B because the film’s ambition is laudable, and it earns points for doing things I’ve never seen before, some of them I wish I could un-see.
The film starts by chronicling the escape of a young girl (Lucie) from a lair where she is imprisoned on an iron chair with a hole cut in the seat to piss through. She’s force-fed a disgusting gruel and beaten savagely by faceless assailants. However, she‘s not sexually abused, which makes the motives of her captors unclear.
She ends up in a foster home, where she befriends another youngster, Anna. However, Lucie is attacked in the night by a fearsome female apparition that is capable of inflicting physical harm on her.
Meanwhile, we jump to a seemingly normal family of four, sitting around the breakfast table, about to start a seemingly normal day. The doorbell rings, the father answers it….and a grown up version of Lucie blows him away with a shotgun and proceeds to wreck shop on the rest of the family, including two teens who beg for their lives. Lucie calls Anna to tell her that Lucie has finally found the people responsible for her childhood trauma.
To go much further would veer into spoiler territory, but I can say that if agonizing, repeated onscreen violence perpetrated against women is a deal-breaker for you, you’re gonna want to give this one a pass. What ultimately happens to the protagonist is one of the more unsettling acts of naked brutality I’ve ever witnessed onscreen. However, the philosophy behind the torment elevates Martyrs beyond simply torture porn into some form of art. It’s not art that everybody can appreciate, which is ok. We simply can’t all be this fucked up.