It’s not very often that I’m deeply affected by the films I watch, but it’s not unheard of. Every once in a while, there comes a film that really knocks me for six. This time, that film was Martyrs. This French horror was an uncomfortable watch to say the least, and whilst there were some really outstanding elements, I don’t think I’ll ever watch it again.
The film follows a young woman on a quest for revenge against those who abused her as a child. Along with her friend, a fellow survivor, they track down her abusers, only to land themselves deeper into a world of suffering and depravity.
Martyrs is a film built on devastating performances
Mylène Jampanoï and Morjana Alaoui who played Lucie and Anna respectively were both phenomenal. There was real pain present in both characters, and the actresses made sure it transcended the screen. What was so brutal was the moment after Lucie had done what she set out to do; when the realisation hit her that she would never be whole, even with her tormentors dead. There were so many emotions it was hard to take everything in, but a sign of a truly great performance.
The performances suited their very bleak setting. There really was nothing that didn’t serve to constantly remind you of the blacker than black feeling Martyrs had. The whole aesthetic was cool, with undersaturated tones that annihilated any hope of any warmth in this whole sorry tale. It was unrelenting darkness from all angles all the way through.
There is no let up at all
As Martyrs transitioned into its second half, it became a real test of endurance. It seemed to throw more and more suffering and misery into the mix, which wasn’t light and fluffy to begin with. There is an entire montage of pain that is absolutely gruelling and super hard to watch. On the one hand, it certainly has impact, but there’s something about being left drained by a film that really makes me think twice about ever revisiting it.
After it was over, there was one big question hanging in the air for me – what was the point? Martyrs was such heavy viewing, and truly unflinching with every element. It struck me as a bit of a study of suffering, abuse, victimhood and survival, whilst going out of its way to focus on all of these things from a young female perspective. It was clearly intended to be a harrowing viewing experience. I’d be really interested to find out more about how this film came to be because there are definitely a lot of extremely brave creative decisions at play here, and I’d imagine that there are plenty who took massive issue with the film for its subject matter.
A hard-hitting masterpiece
Be under no illusions, Martyrs is a brutal but brilliant film. It pulls absolutely no punches, but I will probably never watch it again. The central performances are heart-wrenching, and will stick with me for a long time, and the overall landscape is so bleak it’s exhausting. It’s not exactly a nice watch, but it’s definitely worth watching – just be prepared for complete emotional and physical drainage.