When it comes to making or producing any art, your vision for what you plan to unveil to the world is bound to pack some hidden context that somebody is bound to deem controversial for one reason or another. The closest thing I remember to viewing a ‘controversial’ movie was MUSIC.....and y’all know how that went. But see, what I’m reviewing today is one of the true controversial pieces of the cinema world even to this day: 2008’s Martyrs.
THIS. THIS is art in the darkest subtext you can find. THIS, ladies and gentlemen, is how you make a true horror film, an art house show that leads straight into the bowels of depravity.
Director Pascal Laugiers’ tenure with depression during the production of this film laid the groundwork for what made this the talk of the town back then; dousing every single scene and frame he could under an experimental flame while marking his intentions as blunt and as clear as he could make them. It can come off as pretentious but some subject matters, in my opinion, can’t really reach those grief stricken bowels of realizing that potential if you don’t twist the knife in every chance that you can’t.
It has some the best visceral, raw, unfiltered acting I’ve ever seen in anything ever. Commanding your attention with every swift dramatic action taken, everyone puts their best foot forward and the characters come off memorable as a result.
Nothing about the methodical editing comes off as experimental but the cinematography sure does with each close-up, camera pan or establishing shot striking a sentimentally haunting chord with production design that captures the unhinged brutality of the world inhabited. Dialogue packs the same edgy but restrained ferocity of its presentation, intensity is always at an all-time high and suspension of disbelief was never broken despite the seemingly uncharacteristic choices made.
With an atmosphere as bleak as Judge Claude Frollo and a despairing, nihilistic tone in tow, it carries many of its events forward by elevating them to horrible and utterly grimacing extremes, running the gamut by displaying some of the most uncomfortable scenes and moments in a horror movie I have ever seen. While not exactly the “mortified by what I saw so I couldn’t stand to look at the screen” uncomfortable as I’ve been told about, as an repeated on-going assault on all five senses, it is still specifically designed to make you grimace and detest these actions, essentially giving violence itself a reason to exist in this movie…..and it succeeds.
This, coupled alongside the despondent use of gore and practical effects, presenting a purpose behind its torture-porn antics and its dogged determination to do and to say what its predecessors could not, it got to the point where I almost questioned my fascination behind horror movies.
As a dissection of abuse, mental and physical suffering, transcendence, martyrdom and how far is too far to obtain knowledge about something you don’t understand let alone the mental damage it can harbor on one such kind, it splits the movie effectively into two separate halves while barely being kept together by a single thread of storytelling that’s both way too simple and way too straightforward to arguably be considered the worst case scenario.
In comparison to some of the worst atrocities in human history, it’s a disheartening reflection. One could say the the film expects too much from the audience for being so nihilistic and goes too far at the end of the movie but then again…..what did you expect?
Depending on which side of the fence you want to be on, you’ll either come to some type of conclusion about this or walk away hoping to gouge your eyes out hoping you forget about this experience. Me personally, I generally could not decide whether to dub this as a unique novelty posing as a tremendous test of toughness or unsanctioned barbarism that satisfied the sadistics amongst the mortified audience.
The very least I can say is if you have an itching for incredible tension, harrowing physical violence and indelible imagery, I wouldn’t recommend checking this one out unless you are absolutely 150% certain you can truly stomach the material you’re about to see. If, and only IF you have true iron nerves of steel, can you possibly make it through this without shutting the film off at least once because lord help me.....I tried.