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John’s Horror Corner: Martyrs (2008), a transcendental journey of French extremism paved with suffering

September 2, 2013

FYI: This should be treated as NOT SAFE FOR WORK. So don’t come complaining to us when your boss peaks over your shoulder to your monitor and sees gore slathered, beaten or partially naked women, gushy exit wounds or generally disturbing imagery (see images below).  That’s on you!  This is a horror post.  I can’t (and won’t) make everything PG.  LOL

MY CALL:  Pain and transcendence paint the theme of this intense, cruel, relentlessly brutal film that will lead you to dark places free from the moral burdens of compassion.  IF YOU LIKE THIS WATCH:  Though not quite as intense, Deadgirl (2008) and I Spit on Your Grave (1978, 2010) push moral boundaries far and hard.  LANGUAGE:  French; I bought the “unrated” DVD which offered it dubbed in English.  The dubbing is really poor–think Anime.

Amazon offers a friendly piece of advice: “Avoid, if you can, reading anything about Martyrs before viewing–this ultra-intense Canadian-French shocker benefits from discovering its horrors cold.”  I followed that advice.  I haven’t even seen a trailer.  What follows is my account of this film which was revered by some as being among the “10 most disturbing horror movies” and by Amazon as only advisable to “the most hardcore patrons of 21st-century torture cinema.”  I find over-hyping to be symptomatic of the breeding grounds of mediocrity.  Does this film follow suit?  No.  Does it break free from the over-played mold?  ABSOLUTELY!   So I suggest you STOP READING THIS REVIEW UNLESS YOU’VE ALREADY SEEN THE MOVIE.

We are introduced to an underage Lucie escaping an abandoned building where she was kept captive, beaten and malnourished under destitute conditions presumably as a sex slave.  Lucie ages through adolescence exhibiting damaged antisocial tendencies and self-destructive proclivities.  15 years later, Lucie (Mylène Jampanoï; Hereafter) pays a visit to her to childhood captors.  She finds revenge, but no true satisfaction; only utter mental breakdown exacerbated by her surrogate tormentor, her demon-like anthropomorphized self-loathing and guilt.


Be prepared for a steady stream of disturbing imagery with mixed distortions between compassion and black-hearted evil.

Anna (Morjana Alaoui) has been watching out for Lucie since they met in an orphanage.  She arrives at the scene of Lucie’s revenge.  It’s bad.  Really bad.  And Anna tries to help clean up the mess and keep Lucie out of trouble.

Just when you thought you knew where the story was going, another weird story arc falls in your lap…over and over again.  This film is beyond bonkers, but executed intelligently.  You find yourself caught between wanting to laugh at how senseless it all is and wanting to scream because it’s frustratingly insane.  But, by the end, everything feels well-linked together in hindsight; in fact, brilliantly so.


This woman came across some tough times.  Her every movement, twitch and mumble conveys a powerful pain.

This film is rich in gore, visceral brutality, intensity, violence (against women; not sexual in nature), torture and desperation.  There is also a fair bit of nudity.  But it is presented more to embrace humility and vulnerability than perversion.  Artfully handled, the nudity is an effective device that will elicit many feelings, none of which being arousal.


Pascal Laugier, the man to blame for The Tall Man (2012), wrote and directed this film.  The Tall Man was an indecisively written film featuring an unreliable story, making for an unsatisfying waste of time drowning itself in too many loose plot elements.  Did that happen here?  Well…sort of.  Yes in the sense of the complete plot-based pandemonium which somehow neatly tied together in the end.  No in the sense that I actually loved this film–whereas I hated The Tall Man. Organized madness best describes Laughier’s storytelling style.  If you crave brutal intensity, let this film impress you.




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