Two young women (Morjana Alaoui and Mylene Jampanoi) who were both victims of abuse as children embark on a bloody quest for revenge only to find themselves plunged into a living hell of depravity.
I had always known of Martyrs as being one of those movies on those lists that about ‘the most extreme/violent/disturbing movies ever’. In fact, this movie was known as being part of the New French Extremity movement, in which starting from the early 2000s there was an increase of French films featuring some more extreme content. Martyrs managed to be an interesting case among those, in that it was especially extreme even among those movies in that category. After hearing about how messed up it was, I eventually decided to watch it (with great caution), and I can confirm that the reactions were warranted. It’s an overwhelming experience, yet despite it being hard to sit through, I think it’s a fantastic movie.
A lot of reviews talk about how extreme the content is, and I was hoping to talk more about what the movie actually is than just that. With that being said that’s a bit difficult because it’s hard to talk about the violence briefly, and it’s also hard to talk about the movie without spoiling it. If you can’t handle a lot of disturbing content and violence in movies, then Martyrs is definitely one to stay away from. While I’m not some expert on extreme cinema or anything, I generally can handle high levels of violence in movies pretty well. Martyrs however is one of the rare movies that was hard for me to sit through. If you start the movie and think that at some point it will ease up a little bit, it won’t, it’ll only get worse. The last act in particular contains the worst of it, which is saying a lot considering the amount of stuff that was put in the previous two acts. It’s not just that there is graphic violence however, its also accompanying a story which is also disturbing and dark, yet depressing and sad, which is really what gave the extra emotional punch to multiple moments. I was genuinely invested in what was happening with the story and the main two characters, so as hard as many of the scenes were to watch, I could not look away. While some could easily put up the last act as being torture porn, I do think it’s something more than just that. Though I will say that in this section I wasn’t as engaged in watching if only because it was hard to watch, it has a great and ambiguous ending though. While I don’t like saying it, Martyrs is yet another one of those movies that is best going into blind. I can say that it is deeper than you’d initially expect it to be.
The acting is phenomenal, and while everyone does a great job on their parts, it’s really the two leads in Morjana Alaoui and Mylene Jampanoi who stand out. Both of them have to portray such raw emotions over the course of the film and all the things their characters are going through. Truly heartwrenching performances that shouldn’t be overlooked.
This is the first film I’ve seen from Pascal Laugier, and his direction of this movie is nothing short of outstanding. It’s shot incredibly well, and was very well edited. The violence on screen as I previously said is absolutely brutal, and it feels really grimly real too. On that note, the makeup is truly fantastic. The horror parts of the movie works too, it’s more disturbing and depressing than scary though. With that said, there was a particular standout moment in the first third of the movie before the title screen finally appears, it was pure nightmare fuel and felt like a nightmare that a lot of people could have.
Saying that Martyrs is not for everyone is a massive understatement, it’s currently up there with Irreversible when it comes to disturbing movies that really left an impact on me. Like with that movie, I can’t recommend Martyrs in good conscience, I don’t want to watch it again and I don’t see it happening for me. However I do think it’s a great and really impactful movie. The acting, directing and story were top notch and ever since I’ve first watched this film, I haven’t stopped thinking about it. If you think you might be able to handle it, then check it out for yourself.