Heavily recommended by the horror group that I am a member off, I kept putting this off for several months since the first I had heard about it. Martyrs is a 2008 French horror film written and directed by Pascal Laugier. The film debuted in Cannes and focuses on torture.
The film starts with a young girl named Lucie, who has subjected to tremendous physical abuse, escaping from a building in what looks like an abandoned factory area. Bloodied and her hair shorn she is found and taken to an orphanage once her physical wounds have healed somewhat. She doesn’t trust anyone and flinches at the slightest movements and it is only Anna, her roommate who is able to get close to her. Lucie is haunted by a ghoulish figure that is emaciated and covered in scars which attacks her at night unseen by anyoneelse, except that Anna seems to know about these attacks. 15 years later a grown up Lucie enters what seems like a rich family’s home and proceeds to kill the father and the mother of the house with her shotgun. She then asks the teenage boy if he knows what his parents did to her and when he replies no she kills him too. She then hunts for the young girl in the house and kills her as well. Lucie then calls Anna, who has remained best friends with her, and tells her that she found the people who tortured her all those years ago and has killed them.
Anna comes to the house and agrees to help Lucie bury the bodies but is shocked to find that the mother is still alive. In between the creature attacks Lucie a couple of times and she has to hide in a bedroom. That night while Lucie sleeps, Anna tries to help the mother escape but is caught by Lucie who then proceeds to beat the mother to death. Lucie is again attacked by the scarred creature, but all Anna sees is Lucie banging her head against the wall and cutting herself with a hobby knife; the ‘creature’ is nothing more than a psychological manifestation of Lucie’s guilt for leaving behind another girl who was also imprisoned and tortured with her as a child. Lucie then tells the apparition that she has killed the torturers and she can now rest but is “attacked” by the creature again. Convinced that the apparition will never leave her alone, Lucie slits her own throat and dies out in the rain as a horrified Anna weeps for her friend. Anna waits till morning to clean up the house before she leaves and discovers a secret passageway leaving to an underground section of the house where she finds a terribly tortured & scarred woman tied up in chains with metal contraptions on her head and body. Anna brings the woman out to the main part of the house when some strangers arrive and shoots the chained woman dead. Anna is captured by them and is chained to a wall in the underground chamber.
The leader of the group of strangers, identified as only ‘Mademoiselle’ arrives and tells Anna that her secret philosophical society is behind the torture of Lucie and several other young women. The elderly woman says the purpose behind the kidnappings and torture of these young women is that the society believes that their suffering will offer transcendental insight into the world beyond this one – the afterlife, and they believe that the ‘martyrs’ will be able to offer the secrets of it! Mademoiselle leaves and Anna is tied to a chair and left to be tortured by a heavyset man who brutalizes & beats while a blonde woman comes in between to feed her, forcefully with a green slop, and on occasion cleans her up with wet sponge. Her hair is shaved off and she cries during each degrading beating. After an unspecified passage of time Anna is told that she has surpassed the previous length of duration of torture and will be entering the final stage. She is taken to a lab in the same underground chambers and flayed alive. She survived the procedure and enters a stage that seems euphoric to the tormentors who immediately call Mademoiselle and others. The members of the society arrive at the house along with Mademoiselle eager to learn of what Anna has seen in her state of transcendence.
Mademoiselle goes to Anna and asks her what she saw and the poor girl whispers to the older woman. The MC for the day addresses the gathering and tells them that Anna is only the 4th torture victim to attain “martyrdom” but is the 1st who was able to communicate what she has seen. While the others wait the MC then goes to the room where Mademoiselle prepares herself and asks her if what Anna said she saw was clear and precise. From behind closed doors she says that there is no room for interpretation and asks if the MC could guess what comes after death. The MC says no and Mademoiselle says that he should keep guessing and shoots herself dead with a gun. Before the screen fades, we see a close up of Anna’s face with some voices in the background.
What the hell!!! This movie is shocking in it’s brutality and fierce torture. Oh how realistic and painful it looks. With ever slap and hit, I shuddered along with Anna. And that skin flaying scene – oh! I flinched at the brutal scenes quite often; scary stuff I can take, horryfing creatures, scary monsters – bring them on! But this brutal hitting of women, and especially this dainty little woman! Whoa! I was moved by the situation of Anna and Lucie but the scenes depicting Anna’s tortures were hard to watch. I had to watch videos of puppies and kittens frolicking on Youtube just to get myself back into a familiar frame of mind! As a well acted and affective film – 8 outta 10! But I wouldn’t recommend anyone but horror fans to watch this.