Martyrs is essentially a film with three acts centred around two young women, Lucie and Anna, played by Mylène Jampanoï (Hereafter, The Chinese Botanist’s Daughters ) and Morjana Alaoui (Rock the Casbah, Special Forces) respectively. The film opens with a young Lucie’s escape from an abandoned warehouse where she is being abused. Put into a children’s home, Lucie refuses to communicate with the authorities but forms a close an enduring friendship with her roommate, Anna. The film then skips forwards fifteen years where we see Lucie break into an ordinary family’s home and kill them all with a shot gun, however the pile of corpses are not Lucie’s only problem, she is plagued by an emaciated, scarred woman (think Gollum but way more scary) who attacks her repeatedly. Needing help, she calls her life-long friend Anna who rushes to her aid, cleaning her wounds and disposing of the bodies. It turns out that the family was not as ordinary as on first appearances and Lucie is sure the parents are the people who kidnapped and tortured her fifteen years previously. This is essentially the first act dealing with the ramifications of Lucie’s actions and the mysterious woman, ghost, monster or in Lucie’s psyche.
The catalyst of the second act is Anna’s discovery that the mother is still alive and the deterioration of Lucie’s behaviour and focusses more on the relationship between the two girls. Anna begins to doubt that the parents are those responsible for Lucie’s torture, after all it has been fifteen years and she only had a newspaper clipping to go on. Discovering Anna’s doubts, Lucie brutally kills the mother with a sledge hammer in graphic details, the most unnerving and effective part is the dull thuds as the hammer lands in the woman’s skull before killing herself. Anna is distraught but the next morning, thanks to large chunks taken out of the wall by Lucie’s sledge hammer, discovers an underground complex with the same chair-chains-bucket combination from Lucie’s past. What I didn’t understand was the size and professional look of this chamber, for example it went not just one but two storeys underground and featured poster-sized illuminated photos of people close to death in extreme circumstances. Surely anything of this size and quality would have cost a fortune and required a serious team of builders.
The third and final part of the film I’m not going to ruin the surprise here, but it is a cracker of an ending that I didn’t see coming. It takes the film from an average psychological thriller to the next level. Whilst at the start Martyrs reminded me strongly of another French film released at the same time, Switchblade Romance (released in the US as High Tension),writer and director Pascal Laugier (The Tall Man, House of Voices) pushes the idea to its limits, ramping the tension throughout the film. I think Martyrs is an excellent, if not necessarily enjoyable film that will stay with me for a long time.
Rating: 5/5 (although very different from the last film, The Bat, which also got full marks!)