Martyrs ★★★★★

Like no film before or since, Martyrs made me question the reasons I have for watching and loving horror as a genre.

That it's a film I have returned to time and again and recommend to anyone who has the least interest in horror is bewildering to most of my friends. Many of them wonder why I willingly sit through such a dark, harrowing and unremittingly bleak film. Even among the pungent charms of the other films in the 'New French Extreme' Martyrs is a soul-crushing, swampy morass that threatens to engulf the unprepared.

It features scenes of almost unbearable cruelty and bloody retribution. Director Pascal Laugier has publicly stated that he doesn't know why anyone would want to watch it. I think he disturbed himself with the final result in much the same way as Stephen King did with Pet Semetary.

I think it's a deeply human film however. It's fearlessly acted by Morjana Alaoui and Mylène Jampanoï, and it's by investing in the two young women, despite their action that one makes the emotional connection with the story - as nihilistic as it is.

It's a schizophrenic beast of a film. The first half plays like a home invasion film with a paranormal element as one of the girls is stalked and attacked by a mutilated apparition armed with a craft knife. Then the film takes an even more horrific turn and becomes what could lazily be described as 'torture porn', although this term comes nowhere close to describing the ending.

It has a philosophical edge that means it transcends the likes of Hostel or Saw. One understands the aim of the shadowy group responsible for the capture and torture of young women, while being repulsed by the methods.

It's a yardstick of the genre as a whole, and a film that is pretty much lodged in my all-time favourites. It's certainly not a film to be enjoyed, but I find it a cathartic watch for some obscure reason I'm not even sure of myself. It almost magnetises me. As upsetting and smothering as I still find it ten viewings or so down the line, I can't tear myself away from a single second of it. It's almost as if that if I look away it would be disrespectful to the suffering of the characters.

I find it to be an almost cleansing experience, ironically for such a dark film - like the film is some kind of symbolic birth trauma and I come through it blinking into the light and ready to start afresh. It certainly makes me look at things differently and can put any piffling trifles I might be troubled by into context. I'll watch something like Amelie to pick me up and make me smile again. I'll watch this to sandblast my soul clean.

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