Martyrs (2008) Film Review

Martyrs DVD

Starring: Morjana Aloui, Mylène Jampanoï, Catherine Bégin

Written & Directed By: Pascal Laugier

Grade: B+

Martyrs takes the theory that what comes after death will always be unknown to the living and challenges it through extreme violence and institutionalized torture. An ambitious attempt at justification is presented, but it is clear no sense of morality is really involved in these vicious actions. It has a million twists and turns throughout. Every moment of the film has an intriguing and heartbreaking story to tell.

Lucie (Jampanoï) was tortured when she was a kid. She was an abused child, suffering from malnutrition and dehydration not to mention the massive beatings she endured. Lucie was kept in such a cold state of isolation that when she managed to escape every doctor she ever talked to assumed that she must be crazy. It’s 15 years later and Lucie still can’t let go of those days of torture. She doesn’t think she has any chance at living until she kills the people that are responsible for her imprisonment. Lucie, along with the help of her lifelong friend, Anna (Aloui), decide to find the guilty parties. However, this just ends up leading them to a much darker place, full of death and despair.

Martyrs Film Still

One of the best things about Martyrs is how it continues to go in so many directions. Writer/director, Pascal Laugier, created this film for the horror fans. He establishes suspense and as soon as the audience starts to think they know what’s going on, the tone and entire pacing and perspective of the film is changed. Laugier doesn’t let us get too comfortable; he keeps us on our toes, never knowing what’s going to come next. Now the only down side to this is that it became two separate movies in this process, really displaying a split personality; one belonging to Lucie and the other to Anna.

However, there is somewhat of a transition and luckily these two stories don’t really collide. When they do it puts the separate state of the two stories in to perspective a bit and lets us know that their stories aren’t so different after all. With Lucie’s story on her side and her ability to survive, it gives Anna more strength and hope for enduring everything that is ahead of her. The second half becomes even more sickening and much more disturbing. This portion of the story is slower paced. After torture scene after torture scene, eventually the film hits a bit of a lull and drags. Luckily, we are given another shocking change that does alter the pace, bringing the film to an entirely different place and leaving us in shock.

Martyrs Still

Martyrs is right up there with Frontier(s) and Inside on the foreign horror gore spectrum done right. It’s completely brutal from beginning to end and manages to maintain this on many different levels throughout the film. There’s gunshots that blow apart a happy family, vicious attacks and slayings by a dead distorted girl towards the victimized, and beatings and electrical abusive machinery inside the dark, cold walls of a long existing torture chamber. There are numerous moments that will make even the most avid horror fans cringe. Martyrs is an extremely uncomfortable film. There are some moments earlier on that might be able to be considered fun for blood or shock factor, but it has a very heavy tone even throughout these moments that tell us that the horror that is being depicted is grim and dissolute. Before long, it’s more than just a feeling; it’s right there before your eyes, completely relentless.

Luckily, the gore isn’t the only thing in common Martyrs has with other recent brutal horror films. It also has a strong story line, themes, and meaning. The one thing that made the complete perspective change somewhat adaptable was that both stories and the characters we followed them through were so intriguing. I deeply cared for each of these girls and was glad to be with them in their trip towards empowered heroines. Jampanoï and Aloui both gave strong and meaningful performances, really making you care so much and consuming you with all that is going on in their world.

Martyrs Film

The question of what’s after death and how far people would go to find these answers before they meet this fate was very interesting.Another very enthralling question the film poses is that of victimization vs. martyrdom. It is suggested that nearly everyone is a victim, but there are few who are martyrs who can endure unbearable amounts of pain to pay for the sins of all. This theme reminded me of that in Nympha as did the nearly demonic torturers who claimed to have some greater meaning in mind. Just as in that film as this martyrdom gets closer to being achieved; it ends up just seeming like an excuse for their true selfish ulterior motives.

There has been a good deal of backlash towards the movie and clearly it is going to have those that can’t handle the grotesqueness shown on screen. It’s not for everyone, but before watching this you should clearly know whether you are one of these people or not. Laugier’s response to the varying reactions to the film seems to be “I’m sorry” to most people and “thank you” to those that appreciate what he has done here. Martyrs is a brutally gory, intriguing, well developed suspenseful horror film that goes in so many directions and covers an enormous amount of ground. Laugier clearly made this to challenge the horror genre and to tell a meaningful story, which he did with great style and substance.


Kelsey Zukowski is a horror actress/ writer and internationally published alternative model who gravitates towards dark, complex material full of thematic exploration.

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