Movie Reviews 101 – Martyrs (2008)

MartyrsHaving recently watched A Serbian Film just a few weeks back, my depravity defence mechanisms (deflector shields?) were already in full deployment state. I’d heard of Pascal Laugier’s Martyrs before but the only lingering sentiments was a generic positive reception and I didn’t recall any details of the general story, specific scenes or depictions. But my ‘uh oh’ senses immediately came to alert right at the start seeing a very young girl, obviously injured and battered, emerge running from a building in an barren industrial complex. The reasons behind this could not be pretty.

This movie is really two distinct stories neatly tied in the middle. We start with our little escapee Lucie (Mylène Jampanoï) who was kidnapped and tortured in that decrepit warehouse. After her escape the authorities had no luck finding her captors, much less why this was done to her. All they know is that she emerged emotionally scarred and devoid of normal human interaction. She was like one of those ‘wild jungle kids’ or ‘kid raised by wolves’ cause célèbres, studied by academia as much as treated. Indeed we see a documentary made about her case.  She is slowly brought back to normality largely due to the young Anna (Morjana Alaoui), a fellow student at her school, who sets out to befriend her and even keeps a few of her secrets.

Cut to the present day and we find Anna and Lucie now young adults. Anna drops Lucie at the side of the road where she has some plan in mind. Lucie breaks into a house of a typical family where a  father, mother, son and daughter are just eating breakfast and discussing normal family matters. This almost serene scene is shaken by Lucie blasting the living hell out of every member of the family with an almost hypnotic drive. Once her murderous rampage has ended she makes a call to Anna and tells her to come over.

Anna is horrified at what Lucie has done thinking she has gone mad. But Lucie is insistent that the father and mother of the family are those that tortured her those many years ago. It seems that Lucie, with the help of her friend Anna, has been searching all along. But Anna, while wanting to help is horrified that Lucie acted with little more proof than a photo of the family she stumbled upon in some newspaper article. She is worried that Lucie amplified whatever memories she had to convince herself that these were indeed the culprits. Anna is certain that this was all in Lucie’s mind and the she senselessly murdered an innocent family.

After the ordeal (and trust me I’m leaving out a lot of the story here), Lucie, believing that she has done all she could to alleviate her inner demons, commits suicide. Anna is left to dispose of all the bodies and just as she goes about her sordid work, makes a discovery that shatters everything she believed in. The torture that Lucie once endured is still ongoing with another victim. Only this one never escaped. Soon matters get worse for Anna. Much worse.

The torture that follows, and more importantly the resulting human (more like inhuman) subjects, rivals anything I’ve seen in movies before. Yes, all the Hostels, Saws, Touristas, Serbian Films, and others of that class. This where that that second part of the movie kicks in. We’re talking Dante’s Inferno here.  It makes the first half of the movie seen like a trip to Disneyland. It all seems senseless for quite some time, but there are other characters introduced that slowly unravel the mystery of why the torture is taking place.

My only qualm is that the so called explanation is pretty contrived and hard to take at face value. We’re not talking about some insane individual being responsible but a whole group of people bent on getting something very specific here. I’ll let viewers decide on whether the story is tenable, but it’s almost a footnote as the real movie is the emotional rollercoaster that gets us to the end.

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