Martyrs is a horror/drama film that starts out one place then seamlessly takes the viewer to another, far more emotionally, visceral place as did Million Dollar Baby. Martyrs is not your standard horror film, it’s a layer cake. A thought–provoking idea awaits in the latter part of Martyrs, something that will change how the viewer will interpret what happened before its introduction and what comes after it. Unlike Haute Tension this revelation is the prologue to the darkest, most disturbing and assiduously challenging segment of Martyrs.
Martyrs is film about how the past effects the present and how much a person can endure. Lucie (Mylene Jampanoi) escaped the torment of kidnappers and found refuge in an orphanage where she meets Anna (Morjana Alaoui). Lucie is tormented by the past, what was done to her, and things she could have done differently. Her mind deals with these traumas in a very specific way, a method that soon manifests itself physically. It is these manifest demons that instigate deplorable acts on her part and cause her to cower and hide in fear. In many instances sympathetic, Lucie soon walks a fine line between antagonist, protagonist and most readily, an unhinged individual.
Anna, who has far more affection for Lucie than Lucie realizes, is skeptical of the continuous assertions made by Lucie. The viewer may find it easier to identify with Anna than Lucie because of what she is going through while trying to understand Lucie and be there for her. Because of this, what Anna goes through later in the film produces sympathy because she is no mere “waiting–to-die”, the standard issue girl in many horror films. The simplicity in the way Anna is written makes her more real than the archetypes that usually propagate films in this genre.
Martyrs is the type of film, like Inside but to a greater extent, that the viewer suffers withdrawals from. The viewer may not believe the horrors they have just witnessed and the reason for their perpetration. They are constructs, like most films’ plot points, but these are not throw away points as in your garden variety horror film. The antagonists do not have evil intentions in their hearts though their actions are extraordinarily sadistic and monstrously cruel. These people, some loving caring individuals, are after knowledge, a specific knowledge and will do whatever it takes to obtain it. For this knowledge these people, seemingly normally on the outside, are willing to do whatever it takes to initiate its telling.
If Martyrs is indicative of the nihilistic new wave of French horror, fans of the genre are in for a renaissance. Director Pascal Laugier has created a horror film with an agenda, something to say. Like Seven, that something is kept to the very end of the film amongst another distinct similarity, religion.