So, in my continuing quest to watch and review some of the most extreme horror movies available today, I recently watched French director Pascal Laugier’s 2008 film Martrys. Well. What the shit, France?
I watched this on recommendation from some friends who’d read one of my other reviews. I’d initially seen it in controversial movie lists but hadn’t really thought it would be worth bothering with. This also meant that I didn’t really have any idea what I would be getting into when I hit play.
The plot, and there is one, constitutes what is probably one of the bleakest looks into the human condition available on film. It is also ridiculous, and mental. It follows the misadventures of a pair of girls, Lucie and Anna, as they progress along a series of unfortunate events caused by an organisation looking to create martyrs (ding! you says the name, you wins the game!). The ways that they choose to go about this suggest that Mr Laugier might well have some fairly deep seated issues with the principals of organised religion, and also that you probably shouldn’t let him plan your stag do, or kids birthday parties.
It opens with a young girl (Lucie), badly beaten, escaping from a building where she has been held and tortured. The film is interspersed with documentary style footage of the case, stating that there were no signs of sexual abuse. The girl is placed into care where she befriends Anna. Befriends is probably a bit strong, as the abuse has not been kind to Lucie who – having been held and tortured for a prolonged time – can barely communicate, and is being stalked by some kind of ‘the grudge’ style ghost monster. Anna promises to protect Lucie.
Flash forward 15 years and a family is going about it’s day. Breakfast, arguements, the usual. The doorbell rings, and the father goes to answer. He finds Lucie, who promptly murders the shit out of the entire family of four with a shotgun, kids and all. Well. What the fuck, right? She then shouts at the Grudge rip off that she’s done it, but the monster has none of it and attacks her again. Bad times all round.
So next, instead of running away like any normal person would do, she calls Anna and tells her to come over. Anna arrives and sees what has happened and is understandably concerned. She asks if Lucie is sure these are the ones and Lucie says yes, she can recognise their smell. This happy little family were the people who tortured her. So they begin to dispose of the bodies, Lucie progressively becoming more and more unstable as things go on. Anna realises that the mother is still alive and tries to help her to get out. Lucie notices and has an episode that involves vigorous and liberal application of a hammer, then goes back to talk to the grudge.
Well, the monster seems initially appeased and goes in for a hug, but then attacks and slices up Lucie. Dramatically, it is then revealed that the grudge rip off monster isn’t real and it’s, ‘gasp’, Lucie cutting herself up! Because of how crazy she is! And as if that was too predictable for you and you want it even bleaker, now you get a flashback explaining that the grudge ™ was in fact another girl who was being horribly tortured when Lucie escaped, and who she hadn’t stopped to help. Fun fun fun. So now there’s four dead people, the house is trashed, and there’s an emotionally disturbed girl self harming. This is bleak.
Lucie clearly agrees with my assessment of the situation, because the next thing she does is kill herself. Anna is distraught, there’s some crying, and I sit there wondering how things can possibly get any more depressing. While Anna was burying the bodies I checked the remaining time. 51 mins elapsed, 40 mins to go. ‘How is this possible?’ I wondered out loud to myself. ‘The protagonist is dead’. How indeed?
So while cleaning, Anna calls her mother. This conversation does not go well, with her mother asking if she is still with ‘that girl’. During the call, Anna notices what appears to be a hole behind a cabinet. She hangs up and opens the cabinet, only to discover stairs to a tunnel. rather than running away, she goes inside and finds a torture chamber, where the walls covered in graphic images of torture, mutilation, the whole nine yards. There is also a hatch, with a retractable ladder.
Rather than running away, Anna opens the hatch and descends. Inside she finds a girl who has obviously been horribly tortured, with metal things attached to her head and body. Harsh. Anna takes the girl upstairs, and rather than phoning an ambulance (a trend emerges) decides to pop her in the bath and pull the metal things off the girl, using a pair of pliers and grim determination. Because obviously this is a better option than the hospital. Obviously.
Anyhow, the girl is clearly not a happy bunny, and starts to slash herself up at any opportunity. Anna is trying to discourage this when the front door opens and some people in suits walk in. They shoot the girl without so much as a by-your-leave, and then take Anna down to the torture chamber.
Here the terrible matriarchal Mademoiselle explains to Anna that they torture girls to make them see god, to turn them into Martyrs. She shows her photos, and yells about their eyes, and it’s fucking nuts. The last half an hour of the film is essentially a montage of an undisclosed amount of time where Anna is beaten and tortured. The ending of the film is fairly abrupt, but before that happens, you get to see just why this film is as controversial as it is. You also get the slightly French flourish of some strange trippy sequences. The finale does offer a pay off of sorts, but it’s less of an explanation, and more of a big fat fuck you to all concerned.
**END OF SPOILERS**
The film is strange. By this, I don’t just mean that the plot is strange – it’s clearly mental – but that the entire viewing experience is slightly disjointed and jarring. It took me a while to work out why, but I think that its because it switches genre several times in order to maximise the number of filmic tropes it can abuse.
You get a documentary, a ghost/slasher flick, psychological horror, a revenge flick, torture porn, transcendental mysticism, and the big shock ending. It’s a film that purposefully messes you around, so that just as you begin to think you know what’s coming next, it turns out that you don’t. The problem is that this took me out of things a bit, as I often wondered to myself ‘what the fuck is going on here, exactly?’ If pushed, I would say that the religious imagery throughout the film suggests that the director is not himself a huge fan of mindlessly pursuing religious goals at the detriment of innocents. It could also be some kind of damning indictment into the evils of consumerism. I dunno.
What I do know is that this was a particularly brutal, disorienting piece of film. It covets genre conventions so that it can use them to make you feel uncomfortable, and there’s a girl in it with a metal thing stapled to her head. I mean. Seriously. What the fuck, France?
Watch this if you like being messed with, and also being slightly disappointed with endings. Don’t watch this if you like puppies and sunshine and smiling. There is no smiling in this film.
3 grudge rip off ghosts out of 5