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Released: 2008

Genre: Horror

Runtime: 1 hr 39 min

MPAA Rating: R

Director: Pascal Laugier

Starring: Morjana Alaoui, Mylène Jampanoï

A young woman takes revenge on her childhood tormentors.

Martyrs is one part potential great, one part lumbering dud.

Review by: TomElce

Added: 8 years ago

Martyrs begins with the same visceral punch of Alexandre Aja's Haute Tension only to eventually descend to the mediocre level of Hostel, crippled by convolutions and unnecessary over-explanation. What essentially begins as, and remains for the first 45 minutes, a nifty little horror exercise collapses the more writer-director Pascal Laugier shoehorns in superfluous elements that are actually rather stock to begin with. Had Martyrs continued down the narrower, more personal path it appeared to be heading, the results would have been all the better, effective much in the same way as Greg McLean's underrated Wolf Creek. As is, the movie winds up a series of woefully ineffective torture takes, repetetive long before the closing credits come and not nearly crafted with enough skill to excuse its almost total lack of morality.

A girl (Mylene Jampanoi) runs into view at the opening of Martyrs, bloody and beaten, the recipient of cruel torture both mental and physical. Deeply scarred and now mentally disturbed, her nights are haunted by the presence-apparent of a dead girl. Fifteen years onwards, the same girl storms into the home of a rich French family and shoots them all with a shotgun, the implication being that the parents of the household were somehow involved with her ordeal. Calling a friend (Morjana Alaoui) who arrives to assist in cleaning up the bloody mess of the home, it becomes quickly clear that their story has yet to come full circle.

Martyrs is one part potential great, one part lumbering dud, totally lacking in depth. The opening 45 minutes are simultaneously disquieting, hectic, grim and brutally affecting. Driven to murder an entire family unit on the basis of thinking she recognises them as her torturers, Jampanoi's Lucie is written as a terminally ill woman horrifically consumed by events that were out of her control. Fearing for her friend's sanity and not anywhere near as sure that Lucie has identified the true culprits, Alaoui's Anna nonetheless comes to her friend's aide as a victim of childhood abuse herself, able to somehow relate to Lucie and sympathise with her on such a deep level that she'll even help her in such awful circumstances. Their bond, though built on tragedy, gives the film its fleeting heart, and a moment where both girls find themselves contemplating the gravity of what they've become involved with is the film's greatest.

It's a shame, then, that Laugier puts such emphasis on wholly uninteresting ideas during the second half that it robs Martyrs of its effectiveness and calls attention to its decidedly less noble aspects. Without wanting to give anything away, it's necessary to mention that events in the film take a few turns that serve to iron out potential audience grievances and fail miserably. The film's misogyny is explained by a dopey character speech while Laugier attempts to give some egregious justification to the actions of the two female leads by another of his overly convenient narrative turns. With new elements and, indeed, characters thrown suddenly into the mix, Martyrs loses its footing disastrously, meaning that the complete lack of scares previously excused by the film's personal effectiveness serves to become a greater audience annoyance. At the very least, it is fair to expect that Laugier's sub-Saw plot devices might actually lead somewhere... Alas, Martyrs comes to a finish that qualifies as such a non-event it gets you wondering why exactly you ever wasted your time, spent the money or bought into this film's sorely misplaced hype.

For what it's worth, the acting performances are generally good, while the film's cinematography is better than one might initially expect (again re-calling much of what made Haute Tension such a horror masterpiece) and the gore effects are appropriately stomach-turning. Leads Jampanoi and Alaoui are both fiercely committed to their roles, and live and breathe the motivations and actions taken by their characters, not putting a foot wrong and certainly scoring the film some points. What they cannot do, however, is make up for Martyrs' poorly cobbled-together screenplay, exploitative tone and general pointlessness. A half-competent exercise in gorno it may be, Martyrs is still half-garbage.