2007 | France/Canada | Directed by Pascal Laugier

Logline: Two young women, both victims of abuse, forge a close bond as children, and upon release from the clinic they set out for revenge, only to jump from the frying pan into the fire. 

One of the most startlingly brutal nightmare movies of the past decade Martyrs challenges even the most jaded horrorphiles with its unusual narrative arc, with its jarring, dramatic first act, a prolonged and unbearable middle act, and its extraordinarily grotesque, yet strangely meditative third act … and the stunning epilogue.

A French/French-Canadian co-production that is a systematic assault on the senses, Martyrs is at times expressionistic, even surreal, then utterly naturalistic, almost cinema verite-style. Like Eli Roth’s Hostel: Part II, – and not too dissimilar to the concept of evil just below the surface so popular with David Lynch – it portrays a terrible underworld where money and power can let you indulge in your most depraved desires, where victims become pieces of ragged art to a human agenda of a truly heinous design.

Never has the uber-wealthy been portrayed in such a cruel perverted fashion. The hell that Lucie (Mylène Jampanoï) and Anna (Morjana Alaoui) pass through is of truly Biblical propotions. This is a vision of suffering that makes most other horror movies pale in comparison, but so very well-made that it puts all those low-rent torture porn attempts to utter shame (I won’t even bother to name any of them).

The word “martyr” is derived from the Latin word for “witness”. Those rare humans that suffer agonising pain, but will not be broken, finally seeing beyond death into the mysterious void that has caused so much intrigue to for theological muse. Does this after-life actually exist? Only the martyrs know, but none have ever survived to actually relate their experience, their vision.

Pascal Laugier pushes the envelope, at times his brutality is far-fetched, especially during the extended incarceration section in the middle of the movie, but there is a palpable atmosphere and tone of dread that exudes from the narrative that compels the viewer. The acting is top notch, especially Jampanoï, her hysteria and ferocity is amazing to watch. Laugier’s direction is taut and the production design is very impressive. If only more of the left-field horror movies could command the same high calibre level of filmmaking; intelligent and stylish.

Martyrs is a nightmare theological phantasy, it’s over-the-top, yet the director has the reigns firmly in his clutches. It’s the kind of horror movie that polarises audiences; it’s ferocity and oddness will alienate some, while its uncompromising attitude and its imaginative twists will make others squeal with dark delight. This is the kind of grueling experience that would make for the perfect initiation viewing for newbies into a hardcore horror club.

Long live the extreme flesh!