The Top Ten Project #3: Martyrs
Again I have given you a stupidly long break between entries. Why? I respond with a quote from one of my favorite films of this year, Rubber: "No reason". Counting down my favorite films from 2000 - 2009, we finally reach number 3. Pascal Laugier's punch in the face horror masterpiece from 2008, Martyrs.
3: MARTYRS (Dir: Pascal Laugier, 2008)
"I would say that, at first, Martyrs is a suspense-mystery film. It starts with a very realistic tone, the kind of horrible facts you can find everyday in newspapers: A little girl is found half naked and lost, wandering by a country side. Near catatonic, she can say nothing about what happened to her. French policemen find out quickly where she has been incarcerated. But she bears no traces of sexual abuse so the reasons of her abduction and what has been done to her remain a total enigma. Fifteen years later, the child has turned into a beautiful, but still traumatized, young woman. And it seems, after what could be called an obsessive search, that she has found the place where her torturers live. Is she right? Or completely insane?"
Martyrs is a masterpiece of extreme cinema. It is the most deftly brutal film I have seen in years and very easily makes number 3 in my list of favorite films from the past decade. Martyrs is a difficult film to talk about without spoiling though. It has a game-changing 3rd act turn that is so brilliantly transgressive it has alienated and disturbed audiences worldwide since its first screening.
For the first hour, Martyrs is a simple, kinetic and bloody horror film, it flies along at such a breathless pace that writer/director Pascal Laugier manages to reach an exhausting point where you feel the film cannot continue any longer. This whole section of the film in and of itself works as a perfect horror movie. The final act of Martyrs is the bread and butter of the film though. It is here where the audience usually turns for or against it. Again I realise I am skirting around the issue so as not to spoil the film for you guys but I cannot overstate the brutal force this final act has. It is extreme cinema at its finest and most definitely not everyones cup of tea.
Many writers, I believe, have misread this section of the film and have attacked Laugier for, in their words, attempting to coyly justify the extreme brutality of his film. I feel Laugier is much smarter than that and what he succeeds in doing with Martyrs is offerring his audience an uncomfortable intellectual dilemma which violently conflicts with the matter-of-fact brutality we are confronted with.
"It’s a film about suffering. It’s a film about pain. It’s not a film about torture. I wanted the audience to feel pain because I make my main actress suffer so much. I didn’t want any distance between their suffering and the audience’s suffering."
Laugier manages to cleverly turn his film into a reflection on spectatorship, traumatising his audience with extreme sustained violence then offerring an intellectual "get out of jail free card" that doesn't justify the violence but rather makes the whole experience that much more unsettling. In some ways I feel that Martyrs is a more successful version of what Haneke was trying to achieve in Funny Games in that Martyrs fulfil's it's genre troupes more satisfyingly before subversively turning its gaze on the audience. Haneke lifts his mirror to the audience immediately, almost nullifying his point straight away whereas Laugier slowly turns the screws in before bringing his mirror out in the final act with 30 minutes of bland, matter-of-fact brutality that hurts more than anything.
Martyrs is a masterpiece of modern horror filmmaking that pushes the limits of cinema and assaults its audience in a fascinating way. Not everyone is going to enjoy this one folks. In fact I know that many of you will absolutely hate it. That's fine. I completely understand that response to be honest. You are gonna go either way on this one. It's one of my favorite films of recent years though, and one that is tough to forget. You have been warned.
POINTS OF TRIVIA
- Canadian Wunderkind of moment, Xavier Dolan (director of Heartbeats and I Killed My Mother) plays a small part in the early stages of the film.
- The producer of films such as Twilight and Dear John has bought the remake rights to this and is hoping to having Kristen Stewart star. Definitely the worst remake idea since Spielberg was going to redo Old Boy with Will Smith (true story).