Seriously, though, it’s kind of annoying to me, describing myself as a film (and particularly a horror film) buff as I do, that I am only now catching on to the fact that there has been a remarkable horror renaissance taking place in France over the past few years, as I indicated in my previous review, À l’intérieur (Inside) (2007). Keeping the theme going, I will be reviewing the not-quite-as-extraordinary-but-still-pretty-good Haute Tension (Switchblade Romance) (2003) by Alexandre Aja next, but for now, let writer-director Pascal Laugier (Saint Ange (House of Voices) (2004)) take you to hell (or perhaps elsewhere?) with Martyrs (2008).
A young girl, Lucie (Mylène Jampanoï), who has been missing for more than a year, is found in a state of complete hysteria near a derelict slaughterhouse, where she claims that she was held captive and tortured, but is unable to tell the police anything more about the people who kept her prisoner. Transferred to a youth home, Lucie is befriended by Anna (Morjana Alaoui), but she appears to be being tormented by a hideous, emaciated female figure. We move to 15 years later, and Lucie, with Anna in the wings, slaughters a seemingly innocent family (Robert Toupin and Patricia Tulasne as the father and mother, Juliette Gosselin and Xavier Dolan as the young children Marie and Antoine) that she is convinced were responsible for her captivity and torture as a child – but we are about to find out a lot more concerning guilt or innocence as, God help her, is Anna.
Once again, accusations of ‘torture porn’ may be levelled at Laugier’s film but, as with À l’intérieur, these would be misplaced – both films are at pains to portray realistic violence, but Martyrs is, in a way, even more chilling in this respect (though not as scary overall), because of the banality of what is being depicted, in a style reminiscent of Wolf Creek (2005). Then, with the emergence of the terrifyingly ‘normal’ Mademoiselle (Catherine Bégin), and her explanation as to why Louise and likewise Anna must suffer, the film moves into an entirely different arena, with elements of the supernatural being hinted at that would have seemed impossible just minutes before.
Intrigued? You will be and, to my mind, you will likely be as transfixed by what you see here as I was, from frame one to the (remarkably, in the circumstances) uplifting and, well, life-affirming denoument.
Let’s just hope that France keeps making horror like this because, along with Spain and the Asian countries, the nation would appear to be a beacon of hope for a genre that, if left solely to America, will be moribund (in all the wrong ways) before long.
99 mins. In French.