It’s been quite a while since “Frontier(s)”….. and although the euro horror splatter fests aren’t really my style, I got the chance to see the latest French horror offering to hit Region 1 DVD, “Martyrs”, last evening and figured I might as well go all “Nekolishous” on it for a review this time out.
The synopsis for it goes like this: “A young woman’s quest for revenge against the people who kidnapped and tormented her as a child leads her and her only friend, who is also a victim of child abuse, on a terrifying journey into a living hell of depravity.”
Yep…. sounds like a revenge driven violence fest to me…. Those usually leave me all disgusted and repelled by the ultra realistic violence and torture. Word is that this one pushes to whole idea of “extreme violence” to a revolting new level. Yeah, yeah, yeah…. we’ve ALL heard that one before. Sigh….. I suppose only one real question remains to be asked of it….. Is it scary?
Naturally there is only one real way we’re ever going to know for certain if the claims are true. Yep, you’re gonna have to “Read On” to find out.
Well, it’s films like this one that tell me I’m ever so happy I don’t live in France, (the home of the Flaky Croissant, the Eiffel Tower, jaunty Berets, and those annoying mimes….) and it quite graphically illustrates the recent changes to my movie viewing habits since Carolyn moved in with me.
She’s not exactly a fan of the usually Asian flavored horror and action films this Catgirl normally likes…. and subtitles just bore her to sleep. But…. my sweetie aches to share my hobbies and make movie night into something we both can enjoy together. With this in mind, I was actually sort of happy when she brought this one home one day from the video store….
“Look!!”, she said. “I found a French horror film at the store! You like those, right? And it’s got English dubbed audio too! This is just perfect…. we can watch it tonight and spend a nice evening on the couch.”
Somehow…. I should have known it wouldn’t be that easy.
We start this one as an obviously tortured and abused young Eurasian girl stumbles and runs through some sort of deserted and decaying industrial warehouse area. You don’t see what’s chasing her, but the way she struggles and runs with all her strength tells you it must be utterly horrible. Eventually she manages to escape her unseen pursuer and then gets sent to an orphanage where the police try to figure out just what the nature of the terror she has escaped from truly is. They have no luck, and poor little Lucie is so traumatized that she’s unable, or perhaps unwilling, to tell them anything useful. The case goes cold…. Withdrawn and terrified of most people she remains alone until another young orphan, Anna, also a victim of abuse, becomes her only friend. The police enlist her help… but Anna knows only that Lucie has so blocked away much of what happened that even she isn’t sure what really happened to her. Then there’s the nightmares…. or are they nightmares?
In them…. something angry and terrible pursues Lucie and whenever it catches her, it hurts her….. hurts her badly. Nobody ever sees the Thing… not even Anna… but the wounds are very real and so is Lucie’s fear. At this point, you get to thinking “Ghost Story”…. but don’t get comfy with that idea… “Martyrs” likes to change gears pretty fast just when you think you know what’s going on.
15 years pass…. and then we get introduced to the typical French middle class family…. a Dad and a Mom, a smart talented daughter and their college age son who’s still struggling to “find himself”… They seem like a nice, normal bunch. Not a problem in sight…. That is until the doorbell rings. Dad goes to answer it and gets blown to bloody bits by a shotgun wielded by an older, yet still recognizable Lucie (now played by Myléne Jampanoi). Without pausing, Lucie calmly walks through the house, blasting Mom…. ambushing the son and then cruelly hunting the poor daughter like an animal, showing her no mercy at all. Then Lucie completely falls apart…. crying and going slightly hysterical even as she calls Anna (played by Morjana Alaoui) for help….. (Ummmmm? So maybe this movie is gonna be a vengeance driven Road Movie with a crazy “Thelma & Louise” go all spree killer crazy theme? …….Or maybe not….)
This is where the squirming starts…. Neko is ever so comfortable with ghosts and monsters, but slashers, psychos and extreme brutal violence just for the sake of shock usually makes me somewhat queasy. “Martyrs” is, unfortunately all about the violence. Lots and lots of it…. Big honking, bloody, bucket loads of it….. Even Carolyn sensed my growing distaste by this point, but when she said we could pass on the rest of it, I told her I never like to NOT finish a movie once I’ve started watching it… no matter what. And there was still the promise of the crazy ghost…. which shows up and attacks Lucie almost immediately after the murders while she waits for Anna to come and clean up her bloody mess. It absolutely savages Lucie…. smashing her around like a rag doll, and slicing her back to gory ribbons with a straight razor. Only Anna’s arrival saves Lucie… but Anna is horrified to see what her friend has done. Lucie swears that the parents were the ones who held her captive all those years ago…. that she’s absolutely sure of it… that she had to kill them all…. to finally end it. It’s what that angry spirit has always wanted….. payback for Lucie leaving her behind to a terrible fate when she escaped from the torture chamber as a child. So, then….. why is the spirit still angry?
Anna, meanwhile, has the unenviable task of trying to hold it all together. She’s got to keep Lucie from falling apart while figuring out what to do about the bodies… and the grisly crime scene has to be cleaned up if they are to avoid the police connecting them to the murders. Ok… Ok…. that all sounds reasonable…. but get ready…. “Martyrs” likes to hang crazy left turns on you, remember?
It’s “Spoiler Alert” time….. and I can’t really finish this review without spilling some of the surprises so be warned. Seems that one of the corpses isn’t dead…… the Mother survives her wounds and it’s up to Anna to try to get her safely away from her crazy friend. That doesn’t work of course…. Lucie finds out that Anna has betrayed her and finishes the job… bludgeoning the mother to death with a small sledgehammer. She goes over the deep end…. feeling that Anna has never believed her all these years…… But before anything can happen, there’s the “ghost” to consider….. Well, it attacks again, only this time while Anna is with Lucie….. and it turns out, that there is really no ghost. Just the delusions of a poor traumatized girl all damaged beyond saving. Lucie has been hurting herself all along…. punishing herself for her failure to save the other girl when she was a child. Before Anna’s eyes, the poor deluded Lucie finally pays for this the only way she can…. slicing her own throat with a razor and dying in Anna’s arms. Ahhhh? Say what? But there’s still 40 minutes or so left to go? Huh?
Time for “Martyrs” to do it again….. Now, out of nowhere, strange noises lure Anna to a cupboard where she finds a secret staircase to a locked and hidden basement….. a basement with lots of crazy medical supplies, a shower, and a gallery of unbelievably grisly torture pictures…. and worse…. another victim, chained in a dark room just the way Lucie was all those years ago. Guess Lucie wasn’t so deluded when she said these people were the monsters from her childhood…… Anna frees the victim…. does what she can for her, but the young woman is so badly damaged, both physically and mentally, that it’s a blessing when more strangers arrive and blow her head off. Huh?…… Say what?….
Now we move into as close an explanation of what the heck is really happening as we’re gonna get…. Seems that behind all of this is some secret cult…. a bunch of religious fanatics hung up on the idea of Martyrdom…. They’ve been capturing young girls for decades and sequestering them away for the sole purpose of systematically brutalizing and torturing them, just to drive them to the point of death hoping that their terrible suffering will allow them to glimpse beyond the veil of life itself….. And guess what? It’s Anna’s turn to become a “Martyr”…..
I wish I could say the next 30 minutes would result in Anna being made so hard and inured to suffering that she’s able to turn the tables on these people and end this by killing them all in the most gruesome means possible taking revenge for herself and poor Lucie. I really, really wish I could say that…. but I can’t. We get instead 20 minutes of sick, repulsive, and gratuitous torture…. just about everything in the book including Anna being skinned alive. She sees beyond the veil alright…. but we never get told what the point was….. At the very end the film just cops out and hands us the suicide of the Sect’s Matron, who may or may not even understand whatever Anna told her. Neko felt so…..so…. utterly dirty and foul by this point that any idea of searching for meaning was not appealing at all.
Brrrrrr…. This was a complete letdown for me. There are certain things that can help make horror of this type pass as entertainment occasionally for this lil’ Catgirl and that’s the idea that evil eventually gets served it’s just revenge. There’s absolutely none of that here…. It only leaves the viewer feeling just sickened and depressed. For all it’s brutality, at least “Frontier(s)” didn’t forget that unwritten rule…. and this one did. I slept terribly that evening, waking up from an awful nightmare screaming at around 2 in the morning and scaring poor Carolyn nearly to death. Not a pleasant experience at all…..
So…. what sort of score can I give it? It’s a mixed bag really….. the film had a promising set up, and both actresses were excellent, invoking a real sympathy for their situation…. I even liked the way it constantly challenged the viewer’s perceptions of the story by switching gears so much to keep you guessing. But the ending….. and the way the ceaseless violence is kept ramming itself down your throat….. for no good, apparent storyline payoff. I suppose I should have expected what I was in for when the film started by having the director, Pascal Laugier, do an intro in which he practically apologizes for having even made the movie……..
Remembering that I’m not really a fan of such fare, I suppose it’s reasonable to give this one a grudging 3 “Meows” out of 5….. as it is well made for the most part, but that comes with a cautious warning that it’s most definitely not for everyone. If extreme torture, realistic violence, and brutality are your cup of tea, this might be up your alley. Me… I’m planning on renting “Amélie” next time Carolyn wants to watch a French film…..
There’s a Trailer…. and here it is in all it’s repulsively gory detail……