Martyrs title screen

One of my favorite things about horror is the fact that it’s a gift that keeps on giving. If you have friends or family and you happen to find a good horror film, you can share it with them and watch them react to it; and in turn, they can share it with their family and friends, and so on and so forth. There are very few horror movies that do that. Most of them, unfortunately, tend to be train wrecks that you might want to try and forget to the best of your abilities.

But when you find a gem, you know you’ve got yourself a keeper purely based on the fact that you have a mighty need to share it with everyone and watch their face with serious intent, waiting for them to react so that you can drink in the sight of their shock and terror.

That’s what Martyrs is. It’s one of my favorites that I take delight in sharing it with those who tell me that they’ve never heard of it. Rather than watch the movie over and over again, I sit and watch the person that I show it to. I watch with delight as their face goes through a myriad of emotions and laugh when they try to get answers out of me.

Martyrs, originally released in 2008, is a French film directed by Pascal Laugier. It follows the story of two orphaned girls who grow up dependent on each other for survival. Lucie escaped from torture as a small child and suffers daily at the hand of the spirit of someone she couldn’t save during her escape. Thinking she can avenge the spirit and stop her hauntings, Lucie seeks revenge on the people who held her captive.

Isabelle Chasse as The Creature screaming at Lucie
Issabelle Chasse as The Creature

The movie seems pretty straightforward for the first half of. It’s genuinely terrifying as we encounter Lucie’s tortured spirit a few times. The makeup team and actress for the tortured soul really did a fantastic job at bringing that character life–so to speak. But as we dive further into the movie we start to realize that there is so much more. It has so many twists and turns that you as the viewer won’t see anything coming, and the ending will leave you sitting on the couch with more questions than answers. Perhaps, if you’re lucky, you’ll have to sit and think long and hard about what you just watched in a mini state of having an existential crisis. And that’s what makes the movie great!

Martyrs does a wonderful job at interweaving different complexities and horror aspects into one neatly wrapped package. It starts off as a horror film, then becomes a beautiful torture film, and ends on a psychologically fucked high note. I don’t like explaining this movie to anyone when they ask me about it. It’s purely an experience that one must see for oneself.

Emilie Miskdjian as The Tortured cutting her wrist with a knife.
Emilie Miskdjian as The Tortured

Martyrs is a must-see for any Halloween scary movie night. It’s a glimpse into the more disgusting parts of horror by dipping its toes into the realm of torture, but it’s not distasteful as many torture films tend to be. It’s not for the sake of pushing boundaries and getting a rise out of people, but rather something that’s almost intimately erotic. This, then, is what allows it to seamlessly slip into a psychological horror theme as we discover along with Anna’s character why the events are unfolding and what deeper purpose they serve.

And it was all for nothing as we see by the film’s end. Nothing. All of that effort and suffering was nothing, meant nothing, became nothing. It leaves a pit in your stomach which is why the movie sits with people long after the credits are through.

I hope that you do watch it. Even if you’re squeamish and don’t think torture is for you, this movie does it elegantly.

I promise you that it’s worth at least one watch.

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