Friday, September 26, 2008

FF '08 Film Review: "Martyrs" (A+)

I've been tracking French horror seriously since seeing "Haute Tension," although I was not a fan of the film overall. Stylistically, however, I was very impressed and Alexandre Aja quickly became a top favorite on my list of directors to watch. But then I saw "À l'intérieur" ("Inside"). And then I saw "Frontier(s)". Not to mention the smaller films along the way.

Somewhere along that path, I decided any horror director in France was on my list of directors to watch.

"Martyrs" is one of those films that surpasses greatness and is something else altogether. Directed by Pascal Laugier, the film is like a punch to the gut. I didn't think that "Inside" could be topped - certainly not so fucking quickly - but it certainly has been. I have more affection for "Inside," but in terms of everything else - "Martyrs" is brilliant, disturbing, utterly fucked ... but in the best kind of way. And if you thought "Inside" couldn't be beat in terms of gore ... well, it can.

WARNING: Don't read this review if you haven't seen the movie. While I don't give anything away, it will be a much better experience overall if you go in knowing nothing.

The film starts simply - a young girl, Lucie, running and screaming down a back road. We discover she's been locked away, but there's no traces of sexual abuse or reasons for her capture. To make matters worse, Lucie is catatonic and won't speak to anyone except, eventually, for one friend.

The film unfolds from there, although it's important to point out one thing. While the film is on a relatively slow-burn and doesn't operate like many horror movies, this movie is by no means slow. It's seductive, yes, but at the same time it brings the action and straight-up horror like most other movies can't even dream of doing. The gore is even better/more plentiful than "Inside," but as much as there is, it never goes overboard given the context of the story.

This film is utterly gorgeous to watch. The actresses are beautiful in their despair and fantastic in their roles, which were neither easy to cast nor play from what I've heard. Watching their descent into madness and then something else is like running a marathon. Every extreme horror movie you've seen before this, except for perhaps a rare few, were like practice for sitting through this movie. I would guess that being able to make it through the last 30 minutes of the film without hiding your eyes somehow are what will divide the hardcore horror fans from the rest.

There are sure to be some people who hate this movie through and through, which is probably one of the best things about French horror cinema. It doesn't play to what the audience wants, it doesn't play to what it thinks the genre as a whole wants ... and what results is possibly the most organic, real, and oddly inspiring films I've seen in a long time.

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