Martyrs is a unique horror movie. It dabbles in the tropes and traditions of the torture-porn genre (to adopt a misleading descriptor), but inverts the tone and structure. Instead of establishing characters and gradually accumulating dread, it opens in media res with a pre-pubescent girl fleeing in terror from unexplained imprisonment. Instead of giving the film’s victims respite in the last act through violent revenge, the film’s first act revolves around shocking acts of violence, only revealed as retribution in retrospect. It’s an effective deconstruction of audience expectations; by only framing early slaughter as revenge after-the-fact, it saps the film of the hypocritical catharsis that revenge films celebrate.
There’s an uncomfortable, brutal realism to the film’s opening; it’s a relief when the middle stretch slows down to provide shading to its story and characters. The last act, though, is where Martyrs reveals its true, provocative agenda. There’s no victory, nor the descent into misery that accompanies modern horror grasping for “grittiness.” Instead, the film ascends, reaching for something transcendental and spiritual. Whether it succeeds in that ascent will vary from viewer to viewer, but love it or hate it, it’s impossible to deny that the film is unlike anything else.
14 thoughts on “Martyrs (2008)”
Only brought myself to view it once, still the best horror film I’ve ever seen. I own it, terrified to watch it a second time!
It was actually less terrifying than I expected, largely because the first half built up my expectations and trepidations for the last half so expertly that it was less brutal than I’d steeled myself for (this isn’t necessarily a bad thing of course; I think restraint is – or can be – a virtue in such films). I like plenty of horror films more but I can see how this would truly amaze (and disgust) people – it seems like something that’s going to earn a lot of 0 stars and a lot of 5 stars, depending on the viewer. Thanks for the comment 🙂
Love this writeup! Concise, well written and intelligent. And I totally agree with it – Martyrs is pretty unique!
Thanks – it’s a tricky film to write about in 200 words. I kinda cheated by not really mentioning the plot or identity of the main characters at all, but I figure anyone reading about Martyrs probably has a half-decent idea of what it’s about whether they’ve seen it or not! Thanks for the comment 🙂
Hehe I didn’t even notice that you were pretty general about the plot. It worked for me!
I have some high admiration for this one but haven’t brought myself to watch it again, yet.
Is this because, like Joseph above, you’re too terrified to watch it again? Or is it simply on your to-do list?
Not too terrified to watch it again. It’s the sort of film I really appreciate but one that is just not overly enjoyable to watch or have the desire personally to see again. Having seen it once already left a huge impression as it is, and some of the imagery I will never forget.
That makes sense. I have a few films like that – Irreversible, for example – that I really respect but am in no hurry to watch again.
Exactly. I would place Irreversible even more so on such a list.
Good review. I like this movie a lot, but it’s hard to absorb everything on your first viewing; i need to watch again in the near future.
This was my first viewing – definitely warrants a re-watch for me, but I’ll give it a few years 😉
Yes, that’s my stance exactly! It’s been about 2 years since I watched, and it’s time for that re-watch soon.
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