Saturday, October 16, 2010

#39-Martyrs (2008)

Recently within French cinema, there has been a new-wave of releses. These being incredibly violent, disgusting, and brutal, but also being loved by the public. This French new-wave horror cinema is trying to be remade in America, and appears to be having a similair effect to what happened with Asian horror films in 2002 when The Ring was realesed. Martyrs is one of the these films. It is sick, depraived, disgusting, brutal, violent, and unrelenting, but it is also when of the best horror films of the past decade.

Even before they begin production on a remake they must know that it is a terrible idea. The first and foremost is that the only reason for ever remaking things is to make more money on a new audience, but people who want to watch a film like Martyrs will seek it out and watch it, regardless of it being a foreign film. The second being the level of violence that is depicted in the film, which is incredible. It wouldn't appeal to a mainstream American audeince. Whereas films like Saw have violence shot in a stylized manner, Martyrs drops you in the middle of the violence and tells you to deal with it's brutality. Thirdly is the idea to cast Kristen Stewart. She's not a good actress! Who cares if she's popular and will draw people. No. Just no.

Martyrs tells the story of Anna and Lucie, two girls who have been friends since they met in an orphanage as young children. Lucie had escaped from an abusive group of scientists who ran violent experiments on many other small kids. Lucie is repeatedly attacked by a monster that has followed her since her escape. Flashforward fifteen years, and Lucie has broken into the house of a fancy family with a shotgun, and taken care of all four of them. She calls Anna for help removing the bodies. Turns one of them is still alive and is holding a secret in her basement. Lucie goes crazy and kills her, but not before discovering the family is running similair tests on a hostage in the basement to the ones Lucie went through as a child.

Writer/director Pascal Laugier has created something deeply effecting in this piece of cinema. Whether or not that is a positive or a negative I've yet to decide, as I hope to watch it again soon. In his recorded introduction to the film, he states that some days he thinks that this film is a true masterpiece, and others he wishes he had never made it in the first place. Both of these may be true. But, what cannot be denied is Laugier's excellent direction. The man can direct, and he can direct well. He has a keen ability to make his shots hyper-stylized, but not make them annoying. Similair to what I said about Peter Jackson in my Dead Alive review, he knows how to direct violence in a special way.

 Contrary to popular toture-porn horror films, which make you simply say "eww that's gross" Martyrs makes you feel it. Laugier's lens is unwavering. He knows what he is showing you, and he knows it is terrible and he just rests the camera on it until you just need to look away. When I was a bit younger (and still quite a bit today) I was an avid horror-film fan. I have seen some pretty messed-up things in my time, but rarely does violence in cinema make me uncomfortable. This proves to be an exception. There is one scene in particular -which I'll try my best not to completely ruin- that had me bringing my hands up over my eyes and peeking through the cracks of my fingers, only to see something even more vicious that I turned my head completely and just listened until the screaming stopped.  And while this may sound very dramatized it is what really happened, and when I think about the film I cannot get that sequence out of my head.

And whereas in my previous review of Deadgirl I complained about the senseless burtal violence as an ever imposing negative here it makes sense. There is a purpose to the violence that takes place within Marytrs. The payoff and explanation given for these brutal experiments that take place within the film created a conflict in me as a viewer. On one hand I  thought it was a kind of cool and interesting idea, something that had been done before, but was done different and in an interesting way to bring up so cool plot stings. However when the payoff finally did come and I realized what the movie was trying to say, I just kind of thought to myself "Oh, so that's where taking this". That was the only real flaw that I found with the movie, and it's only a sort of half-flaw. The only other one comes toward the end when they are showing the passing of time within the film. It's done in a series of really slow fade-in, fade-out shots. Normally I wouldn't mind this but the film had such a pace that when these really slow shots starting happening (and happening, and happening, and happening) it kind of drags the film down to this weird place of boredome where you just want something to happen.

The cast for he film is rather slim, only having about four or five main characters, and only having two of them on the screen for a good hour. Mylene Jampanoi who plays Lucie is incredible to watch onscreen.  She is this brutal and violent human being, but has this sort of sensitive outward appearance. You know that the reason she is crazy is because of the tests that were run on her as a child, but to sit and watch her commit acts of violence on others is something else. During the scene where she breaks into the house with a shotgun, as I described above, there is this really kind of soft and touching moment, where after killing the last person she just sits on the ground and rocks back and forth crying. It goes on for about twenty seconds, and the whole time there is just this aching within you that wants to reach out and give her a hug, even though she just massacred an entire family.

In the end, there is no denying that Martyrs is something powerful. Whether or not your morality will allow you to justify that is up to yourself. Sure it's shocking and violent and gruesome, but that isn't the films purpose. Unlike your Saws and Hostels where their violence becomes the main plot point, Martyrs doesn't. It has people that you care for, a story that you want to see through to the end and is just a well made movie. If you can stomach the brutality you will find that it is actually very poignant, sad and sweet. Lucie is one of my favorite troubled characters of recent memory. The movie in the middle is a character study, it is her story, about dealing with the trauma that she went through as a child, and about what she will have to deal with growing up. The violence is just layered around that as additions to the visceral experience. And when all is said and done it really drives you to connect with these people and watch them through to the end. So there. What is possibly one of the sickets films ever made and hype aside, I'd say it's amazing. I won't force you to see Martyrs. It's not a fun film to sit through, and it won't be to some people's taste. But for me and for what it is, Martyrs is near perfection.

I Give Martyrs A: