Is this the scariest film ever?

Not everything in life is nice. For example, thank heavens for impounded car insurance site, without which my car would have been crushed last year! Martyrs is being ranked as one of the scariest movies ever made by virtually everyone who sees it. Martyrs is a French film, originally released on September 3, 2008. The film is written and directed by Pascal Laugier who also wrote and directed the thriller Saint Ange, renamed House of Voices. Martyrs stars Morjana Alaoui as Anna and Mylene Jampanoi as Lucie with support given by Catherine Begin as Mademoiselle, Robert Toupin as Le pere, and Isabelle Chasse as La Creature.

Martyrs begins with a flashback of a news report in 1971 where Lucie, as a young girl, escapes from captivity and notifies police of her capture. There is no evidence of any sexual abuse but Lucie bears several injuries and shows signs of neglect. She is able to lead police to an old slaughterhouse where she was held captive but otherwise she canít communicate because of the trauma she has suffered. When she is placed in a youth home to live, Lucie is befriended by Anna. Anna looks after Lucie and eventually they become best friends. Lucie, however, is being stalked by a ghoul taking the form of a thin, naked woman with pale gray skin that cuts and mutilates Lucie. Anna is sworn to keep Lucieís secret about the shadowy creature.

The movie now transports us 15 years ahead into 1986. The Belford family is having another early-morning argument. As brother, Antoine, and sister, Marie fight over a love note, dad tries to make breakfast while mom in out in the garden fixing the water. Finally, breakfast is ready and everyone sits down to eat when the doorbell rings. Dad goes to answer the door only to discover that itís Lucie wielding a shotgun. Lucie pulls the trigger, killing dad, and proceeds to gruesomely murder the rest of the family as well. In the aftermath, Lucie is again attacked by the creature. She tries to explain that she did her job by killing the family but the creature doesnít listen and continues to attack Lucie.

Still friends, Lucie calls Anna for help. Anna arrives at the address and asks if these are really the people that kidnapped and tortured her those many years ago. Lucie says that they were and she is sure of it. As Anna helps Lucie bury the bodies, Lucie is attacked by the creature yet again. Meanwhile, Anna discovers that the mother is not really dead and tries to get her out of the house. Before she can get out, Lucie discovers the mother and finishes the job she started with a hammer. When the mother is dead, Lucie cries out to the monster yet again in hopes that it is appeased.

The creature seems appeased at first and embraces Lucie in a gentle hug but soon the creature begins to cut into her arms. We are shown now that Anna cannot see the monster and an explosive scene shows how Lucie is the one making the cuts on herself. Martyrs then takes us into Lucieís mind to see that the creature is actually another woman who was kidnapped and tortured with Lucie those many years ago. When Lucie realizes this, she remembers that she had an opportunity to save the woman when she escaped but she didnít. She left the woman there to continue to be tortured. Later, we find out what becomes of this other women. At this point, Lucie is overcome with feelings of remorse and kills herself with by slicing her own throat.

Anna discovers Lucieís body and cleans it up, wrapping her in a clean cloth. Anna then begins to attempt to clean up the house when she discovers a secret tunnel behind a cabinet. Inside is a hidden staircase that leads down into a large underground torture chamber. The walls of the complex are adorned with photos of suffering people. Inside is a naked woman chained to the wall. A metal blindfold is secured to her head with rivets. Anna frees the woman and takes her up the stairs. She tries to help this woman and give her a bathe, but the woman is completely out of her mind and starts mutilating herself and tries to cut off her own arm.

The rest of the film continues in an even more gruesome fashion. The final 30 minutes include some of the most intense scenes ever caught on film. You will not only cringe in disgust but you may also retch and feel physically ill. This is one film that pushes the envelope beyond anything you have ever seen before. To be sure, Martyrs is not the goriest film ever made but the context and the combination of sights, sounds, and mood works together to take you to the edge. The idea that anyone in the real world can be so cruel and heartless is challenged in Martyrs. These people seem real enough and make you think this is more than someoneís fantasy. Martyrs finishes with a completely satisfying ending. Satisfying, however, doesnít mean you will be expecting it.

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One of the best aspects of Martyrs is its originality. Most other modern horror movies all seem to be just variations on the same thing and once one catches an audience, like Saw, it is done to death until everyone is sick of it. Although it seems rushed by this description, Martyrs is actually paced well. Editing work with different camera angles also helps to create the overall mood of the movie. Some of the final shots in the movie turn out to be some of the best and are executed like a well-written poem.

Martyrs is definitely not for everyone. The movie is disturbing to be sure. For those that like to have their notions about the world challenged, this is a film that accomplishes just that. However, the world you are introduced to is one that you are not sure you are better off knowing or not.

Copyright Jean Lefebre 2008