Continuing the trend in 21st century French extremism (following the likes of Xavier GensFrontiere(s) (2007) and Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury’s Inside (2007)), Pascal Laugier’s Martyrs raises the bar even higher by offering a nauseating, ruthless indictment of and reflection on the violence, hatred and pain that fuels our modern day world. Cheery, this film is not.

Beginning as a tale of revenge, Martyrs initially focuses on Lucie, a young girl who is abducted and subjected to extreme physical and mental abuse until she somehow manages to escape the clutches of her captors. Fifteen years later, Lucie (Mylène Jampanoï) and her childhood friend, Anna (Morjana Alaoui), seek revenge on those Lucie believes to be responsible for her trauma, though a cruel twist of fate places them both in extreme danger.

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Martyrs is a movie of three acts, which makes it both difficult to summarise (without spoiling the experience) and categorise. The dizzying, nauseating and frenetic pace of the first two-thirds of the film creates a remarkable intensity thanks to the unflinching violence and fierce music score. Indeed, the narrative becomes so disorientating, that we’re never quite sure what kind of genre flick we are watching and what direction it will take.

Then, as things seem to be edging toward some sort of premature climax about 70 minutes in, the film shifts both its direction and tone and descends into its depressing, stomach-churning and heart-rending final act, delivering 20 minutes of unflinching brutality that forces the audience to endure every second of the horrendous ordeal. The shocking, uncompromising and strangely beautiful climax of cruelty delivers a gasp-inducing, jaw-dropping moment that manages to burrow deep beneath the skin and ensures that Martyrs is a movie you won’t be able to shake off any time soon.

Since its debut at the Cannes Film Festival last summer, Martyrs has had tongues wagging furiously over its graphic content, its persistent and excessive violence, its apparent misogynistic tendencies and its supposedly sadistic preoccupations, and certainly, for these reasons and many others, Martyrs isn’t for everyone. However, for those brave enough to enter Pascal Laugier’s bad, bad world, there’s a balls-achingly brutal horror film waiting to be experienced; one that’s deeply disturbing, profoundly moving and somehow, eerily beautiful.

Reviewed on: 18 Mar 2009
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After being abducted and abused when she was younger, a young girl seeks revenge on those she believes to be responsible. Plus read our .
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Director: Pascal Laugier

Writer: Pascal Laugier

Starring: Morjana Alaoui, Mylène Jampanoï, Catherine Bégin

Year: 2008

Runtime: 95 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: France, Canada


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