Martyrs (2008)

Martyrs is the film that convinced me that good horror movies do not need to be scary in order to be effective. It’s a film that, while not all that scary, still manages to make its point, and be incredibly effective at doing so. It’s essentially a film about how far people will go in order to be correct about certain issues, yet manages to tell this story in subtlety and while being indirect about the entire thing.

There are two basic stories that Martyrs tells. They are divided by about the half way point of the film. The first story involves a duo of girls, Anna and Lucie. Lucie has killed a family and the first 45 or so minutes revolve around Anna cleaning up after her. That’s about it. The second half has Anna captured by a group of people, and tortured. Why? Watch it and find out. It’s best to go into the film with an incredibly limited knowledge of the situations, because that is how it will have the most impact.

As you go through the second half of the film, events from the first half that didn’t make sense earlier suddenly become clear. The motivation of certain characters becomes apparent, and pretty much everything that needs clearing up is explained. Most of the time this doesn’t happen directly, but instead occurs in passing mention or in scenes that alone wouldn’t manage to have much of an impact. This is when Martyrs works best. When it does try to explain things to its audience directly, it becomes over-encumbering. It ends up having a couple of times where you get beaten over the head with plot points that don’t require much attention to grasp.

I said earlier that Martyrs isn’t scary, and for the most part, that’s true. There are a few jump scares near the beginning, making it seem like a genuine horror film. These get abandoned in the second half of the story, and that ends up being for the best. When the film tries too hard, that’s when it ends up failing. There may not be a lot of plot to sift through, but what’s given makes sense, moves at a good clip, and manages to stay entertaining.

The main points of Martyrs lie in its details. From the beginning to end, nothing on the surface actually seems to matter. The main points that it attempts to hammer home are only really visible when you look deeper. This may end up hurting the film in the eyes of some, because when many people go to see a horror film, they expect to leave fearful for either their lives or the lives of the characters within the film they just finished watching—sometimes both.

Martyrs managed to convince me that horror movies do not have to be scary in order to impact the viewer.

The film does manage to make you care for both of the leading characters. You sympathize with each of them, either finding out details of their past, or through what happens to them throughout the course of the movie. You really do care for each of them, and that makes some of the scenes that they end up being put through quite hard to watch.

While it may not be the scariest film ever made, it is one of the more disturbing ones you end up watching. It has been described as torture-porn by some. This isn’t entirely true, as that is one of the points of the film, but you still can’t help but notice that statement does have some merit. There are some incredibly disturbing scenes within Martyrs, including a torture of one of the main characters that lasts far too long. It is sickening at times, and that can make it quite memorable.

There is a noticeable lack of blood and gore within the film. It’s refreshing to see this, as an excessive amount of these can make a film’s message get lost. If done to excess, a film can become downright silly. This doesn’t happen to Martyrs. There is some blood, but it is done only in places where it seems necessary. If there had been a total lack of it, the film might have seemed less intense, making you feel less for its characters.

In terms of the acting, it was good for the most part, but ended up being somewhat of a mixed bag. The standout was Morjana Alaoui as Anna, as she ended up carrying the majority of the film’s both physical and emotional weight. The other girl, Mylène Jampanoï, was more hit-and-miss. She was good at times, but obviously acting at others. She was inconsistent, but not exactly bad. She was just not quite on the same level as her co-star.

Martyrs managed to convince me that horror movies do not have to be scary in order to impact the viewer. It managed to get a deep message across, without being too apparent about it. It’s certainly a brutal film, with many scenes being difficult to watch, but it all serves a purpose. There doesn’t appear to be scenes that needed to be omitted, as they all have a reason to be there. The story is separated into two main parts, with the first only making complete sense after viewing the second. It ties everything together well and manages to be an unforgettable experience.

Conclusion: Martyrs is disturbing and unforgettable.

Recommendation: Martyrs is a movie worth checking out—if you think you can handle it.

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