Horror as a genre has become so predictable and dull in the last few
years (witness the never-ending Saw series and the interminable shot on video dreck that has emanated from the States since the birth of DV), that many people have turned to other countries for real cutting edge horror. For a while it was the likes of Japan, Korea, and Hong Kong that lead the way, but recently the output from France has burnt brightest of all, pushing the boundaries in a way many of us thought European Cinema was now incapable of doing.
Films such as "Marina de Vans", "In My Skin", the horrific "Irreversible" by Gaspar Noe, and, more recently, the triple threat of "Switchblade Romance" (aka; Haute Tension/High Tension), "Frontier(s)", and best of all, the gut-punch that was "Inside" have lead the way, causing many eyes to turn to Europe to see what the French would come up with next.
Ladies and Gentleman, I give you "Martyrs".
This film is going to be difficult to review, because to give too much away about the plot would be a crime. It is best to come to it as I did, with no idea what is to come, because some of the paths it leads you down are so unexpected and horrific I am still in a dark place a number of days after seeing the movie for the first time. Those of you expecting a Hostel style romp ,or even a more gruesome version of Frontiers are in for a terrible shock. This is one of the darkest, most brutal and disturbing movies I’ve ever seen, and I’m not surprised by talk of walkouts at various film festival showings around the globe.
If I was simply to describe the violence on display in this film, I would wrongly give the impression that this is a French version of the Fred Vogel August Underground series, but both artistically and morally this film is a million miles away from that worthless canon.
The film starts in the seventies, and a young girl has escaped from a situation which seems to have involved here being tortured and battered and possibly abused by unknown assailants. This woman is so broken and stripped down that it takes her many years to recover from the experience. Years later something happens that allows her and a friend to take revenge for whatever has happened to her.
And that's all your going to get from me plot wise.
The film takes something like They Call Her One Eye as its starting point, but then takes a path so unexpected and disturbing that I actually contemplated not completing my viewing of this film. My reaction to it was similar to the reaction I had upon viewing Salo, or even Cannibal Holocaust for the first time-while I can't say I enjoyed the film you quickly become aware that you are watching something both so disturbing and so ground breaking that you begin to feel a feeling of dread deep in the pit of your stomach because you realise that the filmmakers have no boundaries that they aren't willing to cross(and by this I don't mean that they just lay on the gore with a trowel, it's far more subtle than that).
The film is beautifully shot and is technically excellent, with an almost art house look to the second half of the movie.
The performances from the two female leads are so stunning that you wonder how they managed to get themselves mentally into the state required for the journeys that their characters have to take, and the physical depths that they both plummet to are both heartbreaking and amazing at the same time.
I can't recommend this film highly enough-it is something that will cause a sensation when it receives its US DVD release(no chance in the UK I suspect), and it will be spoken about for many years to come as a watershed film.
I'm sorry I can't reveal anymore about the plot to you, but I can't wait for everyone to see this film and read your reactions on the boards.