Martyrs by Pascal Laugier (2008)
The film starts with the scene of a young girl, obviously injured, escaping from being held against her will. She is rescued, taken in and looked after and brought back to health but she has been mentally scarred by the ordeal. Eventually she befriends another young girl, Anna, and they become best friends.
Before the titles appear we are treated to a classic jump scare, leading to wondering whether this poor young girl is being traumatised by some evil entity.
We cut to 15 years later after the titles.
What begins as a straight forward revenge mission, Lucie is trying to get some violent retribution for the suffering that she was put through, soon morphs into something entirely different. Lucie, apparently free from her traumas of the past thinks that she is able to go about her life but there is something else that isn’t letting her. The malevolent entity, the same as what was haunting her previously, is stalking Lucie around the house, inflicting some serious injuries upon her.
In another change of direction we see what is happening through Anna’s eyes and we see, in a graphic way, that Lucie has been imagining the entity all this time and has been hurting herself. Lucie manages to head outside into the night and slices her own throat, gushing blood into the pouring rain.
Another shift occurs the next day as Anna tries to return to some kind of normal life, she stumbles upon a secret entrance. This leads to a high tech looking dungeon which Anna explores. She finds another secured hatch which she opens and in there finds another room with a chair and chains and another captive woman, in a terrible state of health and with some pretty horrendous bondage. Anna manages to rescue her and attempts to help her heal, however this woman is too far gone and she is seen cutting and scraping her arms with a big knife.
It was at this point that I was wondering why are these people doing this? As it appears that it has happened before, what is the point of this torture?
It is all about to be revealed when a team burst into the house and shoot the captive lady in the head, take Anna into the basement and handcuff her to the wall. A while later Anna is moved to accommodate the coming of the real boss of this situation. A discussion takes place, mostly one way, about what they are trying to accomplish. It appears that they are trying to create martyrs, but have so far only created victims. Victims who develop hallucination whereas martyrs transfigure into something more, see something more.
And so begins the third section. Anna is locked up, beaten, degraded, beaten, forcibly fed and beaten repeatedly until all hope has gone, until she has let go. One more stage is offered before it all being over, one simple stage before it all stops. She gets skinned alive, all apart from her face. It was at this point that it really did go too far, bordering on the torture porn of Hostel. Interestingly, before being skinned alive Anna’s eyes were swollen shut and blackened from the beatings but afterwards her eyes were open, not swollen and not bruised at all. A magical cure! But this was only because the rapture moment requires the woman to be staring into the nothingness.
Eventually Anna returns from this state and tells Mademoiselle, the leader, what she saw when she was martyred. So the whole process was worth it to get the answer that she was craving. However, this apparently was too much or not what Mademoiselle was expecting as she takes her own life before divulging the information to the gathered throng of her believers/followers.
I can’t say that I found this film to be coherent in it’s plot, it felt disjointed. I won’t doubt the powerful images and acting that are on screen, it is graphic, it is violent, it is unapologetic in what it does but it doesn’t hold together. The whole film is building towards finding out what happens in this state of martyrdom, and if the answers that the Mademoiselle gets cause her either to lose faith in the project or realise that the truth is too much to pass on to others makes the trials of those who went before worthless.