Martyrs (2008)


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!)



I Spit on your Grave aka Day of the Woman (1978)

i spit on your grave

I Spit On Your Grave opens with the arrival of a young New Yorker, Jennifer played by Camille Keaton (Tragic Ceremony) and coincidently the writer and director, Meir Zarchi’s wife and Buster Keaton’s granddaughter, in a small Connecticut town. Jennifer has moved from the Big Apple in order to write her first novel but instead meets a very grizzly fate at the hands of four local men. At the start, whilst it seems like an idyllic summer retreat for Jennifer, the viewer is treated to a slightly less picturesque insight into the local community including the slow grocery delivery man Matthew (Richard Pace) and two unemployed layabouts Stanley (Anthony Nichols) and Andy (Gunter Kleemann). Indeed, our introduction to Stanley and Andy hints at their unsavoury nature with them throwing around a knife at the local gas station whilst leering at the newly arrived woman.

After a few days of relative peace, Jennifer is surprised in her canoe by Stanley and Andy in their motorboat and then follows one of the longest (25 minutes) rape scenes in cinematic history in which the two men along with Matthew and Johnny (Eron Tabor), the gas station attendant.  Understandably this is an incredibly harrowing and upsetting to watch scene which culminates in her being left for dead, only alive on the mercy of Matthew who could not stomach killing her. The reason that the rape scene is so long is that there are periods where it seems like Jennifer is safe, having escaped her tormentors only to be caught and repeatedly violated. Life continues as normal for the four men with them complaining that ‘life is too boring now,’ until Jennifer, now unhinged after the attack stalks them and exacts her revenge in an equally graphic and brutal manner.

Unlike many films (think Psycho with its stabbing violins) there is a distinct lack of soundtrack lending a gritty and realistic quality to the film, making Keaton’s heart-wrenching screams more traumatic. Whilst some of the dialogue is stilted and Jennifer’s novel writing (she would use a lot of paper the way she writes!) is both unbelievable and a poor novel, the acting itself is (generally) good, especially considering the horrific nature of the film.

As with Cannibal Holocaust, this film is not one to watch lightly, however unlike Cannibal Holocaust, there seems to be very little plot and little reason for the traumatic violence beyond shocking the audience, although director Meir Zarchi’s preferred title, Day of the Woman, hints at women’s rights and struggles, I fail to see much evidence of this in the film. I Spit on your Grave has previously been named as one of the worst films ever made, although despite this a remake was produced in 2010, however after watching the original I am not keen to see the later version, nor could I recommend watching this film, except maybe as an earlier example of the ‘torture-porn’ or ‘gorno’ genre.

Fun Fact: All the actors performed their own stunts as the production couldn’t afford any stuntpeople.