Martyrs – What the shit, France?

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.

**SPOILERS**

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

August Underground – Nope nope nope nope

So, the third in my series of extreme horror movie reviews is the first part of Fred Vogel’s August Underground trilogy.  It is entirely possible that you, like most people, have never heard of these films.  This is probably for the best.  

Allow me to explain.  August Underground is – at least content wise – every conceivable sort of wrong.

(**EDIT – I had a bit in here about Charlie Sheen calling the FBI after seeing this film online, but it turns out that was actually the J-Horror ‘Guinea Pig, Flower of Flesh and Blood’ I can admit when I’m wrong.  I was wrong.  Now please don’t make me watch it.**)

I toyed with writing a 3 word review for this film (do not watch)  but after the discomfort I felt during my first aborted attempt at viewing this monstrosity, I decided that any film that has the capacity to elicit extreme reactions from relatively jaded viewers is probably worth trying to sit through, if only to better understand the minds of the director and the viewer in question (me).  So I tried again.  This time I made it through to the second scene.

On the third attempt, I sat through the whole thing, and now feel qualified to have an opinion about it.  But first, a summary.

August Underground follows 2 serial killers as they torture, murder, visit an abattoir, go and see a band, torture some more, go to a shop, torture some more, get tattoos, murder some more, get high, and then top it all off with some more murder. That’s it.

It is a film that, on the face of things, is devoid of merit.  The shot construction is apparently non existent, the scripting seemingly awful, the characters certainly do not elicit any kind of sympathy or empathy from the viewer, and the violence is prolonged and abhorrent.  For most people this is all they need to know – file this film under ‘depraved filth enjoyed only by the mentally unhinged’ and go back to watching Dexter, with it’s lovely sympathetic murderer.

In fact, as noted above, it took me 3 goes to get past this point of view myself.  I didn’t skip bits by the way, I made it through the opening scene 3 times – If you have seen this film you will understand that this is not a pleasant experience, if you haven’t then here is a break down of it:

A guy is outside a house drinking a beer, being filmed.  He tells the cameraman to follow him inside as he has something to show him, and that he will love it.  They go inside, down some stairs, and into a room with a naked girl tied to a chair, sobbing, and missing a nipple.  There is a dead guy in the bath, missing body parts.  As the 2 men giggle like 14 year old’s watching porn, they verbally and physically torture the girl.  This scene is 6 minutes long, is one unbroken shot, and is fucking horrible.  Cut to them driving somewhere.

This is essentially how the film plays out.  Torture scene, something unrelated, torture scene, repeat, end.  Oh and the entire thing is degraded so that it look’s like a VHS home movie that’s been played too many times, or copied and distributed and re-copied.  Like, say, a snuff film.

So how did I make it past this, and why did I bother?

I mentioned Dexter earlier.  One of the things that brought me back to August Underground was an interview I had seen with a psychologist discussing celluloid serial killers vs. the reality of serial killers.  The gist of this was that we are given serial killers in these neat little televisual packages, that show that the protagonist has morals and ‘only kills people who deserve it’ or some similar get out of jail card for the viewer, but that real life serial killers are so fucked up it would be beyond our capacity to process what is going on.  The example he gave was a case where the killer defecated inside the wounds of the people he killed.  Or fucked the bodies, or ate the organs raw. Or all three.   Now, you have to admit, if Dexter was literally balls deep in the eye socket of a victim he’d just shat on, it might just be that little bit harder to see serial killing as ‘OK in certain circumstances’.

August Underground is a film about serial killers with ALL the filters off.  This is the home movie that a serial killer would actually make.  ‘Oh hey Dave, you’re going to love this – here’s that bit where we looked at some statues, oh here’s that bit where I forced a girl to eat shit, oh here’s us getting a burger’.  It’s like the most depraved home movie you could imagine.  It is a reaction to the fetishisation of murder in film.  It is a film maker saying fuck Saw, fuck Dexter, fuck every serial killer film you’ve ever seen, this is what these people are actually like – idiotic juvenile man children who manipulate people to the best of their limited abilities solely so that they can torture and kill for fun.  That’s it.  No moral, no code of ethics, no discernible talent.  Just killing and shit.  is this what you wanted? because this is the reality of what you’ve asked for and it is awful.

Its a bit like watching a full length movie of 3 guys 1 hammer (**WARNING** NEVER EVER WATCH 3G1H- READ THE DESCRIPTION ON WIKIPEDIA INSTEAD http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dnepropetrovsk_maniacs)  and is actually probably a fairly good representation of what actual spree killers get up to.  Oddly, this actually means that this is an exceptionally proficient bit of film.  That does not, however, mean that you should watch it.

There is a scene in this film where the characters are escaping from a crime scene and a police car pulls out and starts to follow them.  You think that this is the moment where sense will be restored and the authorities will discover their murderous ways and there might even be a happy ending or at least some restitution.  Nope.  The scene immediately cuts to another, in which they are fine.  It is at this moment you realise that the point in this film is not to explore the nature of killers, or to show them being punished so that we can all feel better about ourselves, but rather to show us them getting away with it.  The moment of realisation is awful, as you understand that this is just going to keep going until it stops, and that when it does stop, nothing will be better, nothing will change, the world will not be any better.

Just like real violence, I suppose.

Summing up.  This is not a film that many people will enjoy.  It functions better as a critique on the nature of consuming death as a product, and the glamorisation of serial killing in the media.  It works by making you think ‘what the fuck is wrong with me for wanting to watch this’  because, really, what the fuck IS wrong with you?  A difficult watch which was made on a shoestring, and for that at least, it should probably be applauded.  Its just really hard to convince myself to clap, or to watch the next 2…

I’m off to look at pictures of puppies.  You should decide whether you want to watch this, obtain it, then reconsider.  You will need to supply your own filters to make this worthwhile, and even then you probably won’t enjoy it as a film, but more as a piece of film making.  And for the love of god please don’t watch the 3G1H video.

August Underground – 2 repellent atrocities out of 5

The Poughkeepsie Tapes – Much worse than you expect.

So i was recently browsing the internet and found an interesting site called http://horrornews.net/ which reminded me that I freaking love horror movies, and that the last one i saw wasn’t particularly horrifying.  So I got comfortable and started browsing. Horror news has a section for ‘extreme horror’, listing the sorts of the film that the BBFC doesn’t really like, with some blurb about them. Now I’ve seen ‘The Human Centipede (First Sequence)’ and I thought that actually, far from being the country destroying cesspool that the media though it was, it was actually a reasonably well made and particularly dark comedy. (Can you really watch the scenes with ‘meine liebe dreihund’ without bursting out laughing? I can’t) So I got stuck into the list, looking for the films that HMV might not have had on their top 50 front of house displays.

I ended up finding out about the whole subset of ultra realistic horror films, and the controversy surrounding them. These range from the deeply convincing pseudo snuff films like the august underground trilogy, to faux documentaries that jump onto the moral outrage bandwagon and then stab it in the face a bit, like s&man. Now, from a filmmaking standpoint, these films interested me as they are able to achieve some deeply unsettling content that, put simply, does not look like a filmmaker made it.

Now. Recall the last horror film you saw. I watched antichrist recently (don’t do this, antichrist sucks) and while it sucked watching William Defoe getting his ankle bolted to a stone and his pecker exploded, it was, at all times, clearly a film. There is a safety net for the viewer. The film is heavily stylised, with shots that obviously took a long time to construct. there is music. there is lighting. there are blurry shots and long shots, and close-ups and cuts, and it always looks like a film. This is because, most of the time, the audience is looking to be entertained, not disturbed. However, the extreme horror films do away with these niceties, opting instead for a visceral, painful cinematic equivalent of being kicked in the face. ‘Sold!’ I thought. ‘I’ll make a list and watch some of these bad boys.’ Top of the list was The Poughkeepsie Tapes.

I picked The Poughkeepsie Tapes (TPT) because it formed a nice bridge from standard to extreme horror. TPT is a faux documentary about the events leading up to and following on from the discovery of a box of tapes in a property that the police have searched following a lead in an ongoing murder investigation. The tapes are all dated, go back at least a decade, and follow the actions of one unnamed man. We follow a documentary team as they investigate the case after the fact, interviewing key players in the investigation along the way.

The film provides us that safety net of fiction, however it also subverts the genre of serial killer documentaries particularly well. Occasionally, you will forget that you are watching a movie. This is, of course, both excellent and difficult to achieve.

It transpires that the boxes of tapes contain thousands of hours of stalking, abduction, murder, physical and mental torture, and balloon popping (seriously). We see interviews with the profilers who went over the tapes, officers involved in the investigation, families of victims, and finally with a victim herself. We are also slowly exposed to the content of the tapes, and this is where the film continuously, viscerally, kicks you in the face. To give you an idea of the extent of this, I initially found the interview sections to be occasionally poorly acted – a sign of the lower budget indie release. Not every aspiring actor is Al fucking Pacino. However, as the film progressed, I appreciated these moments as they allowed me to think the phrase ‘Oh thank god, this is a film’ to myself while trying to mentally scrub myself clean again.

It starts with a child abduction. The footage is distressed and degraded, out of focus, handheld, distressing. You hear the killer but you never see him. You do not witness the actual abduction, you hear it. The car door slams and he is gone. Moments like these remind you of the truly horrific notion that societal boundaries are the things that keep us safe, but transgression of these boundaries is easy for someone determined and disturbed enough to want to transgress them. And our protagonist really, really wants to.

The worst moments of the film are not the physical torture scenes in which the killer beats or kills his victims, but the psychological torture he inflicts. As the killer progresses we learn that he changes his modus operandi to evade capture, starting to abduct people while disguised as a police officer. He starts to invade homes and successfully kidnaps a girl, who he then holds captive. These scenes are, without question, pushing at the very boundaries of decency. The torture inflicted is horrific by all standards, and far outweigh the lasting impact of the purely violent imagery contained within the film. In fact, much of the actual violence is committed off-screen, but this does not matter. This is still a violent film that will stay with you.

So should you watch it? Well, that depends. If you don’t like horror movies, and you’ve actually made it to the end of this review without deciding that you don’t want to watch it, then no. Dont watch it. But, if you are a horror fan who finds that ‘Insidious’ and ‘Cabin In The Woods’ really don’t cut it for you, or that ‘Hostel’ could have done with being a whole lot more fucked up, then yes. You should watch it.

Just bear in mind that while the film has one last-moment get out of jail free card that finally reminds you to say ‘Oh thank god, this is a film’ towards the end, which made me smile to myself and reflect on a fine bit of film making, I still checked behind every door and in every corner of every room in my flat before I went to bed.

Twice.

An actually horrific horror film. 4 screaming victims out of 5