Wednesday, July 6, 2016

When Grindhouse Collides with Art House, or Thoughts on Martyrs

You should know by now that I have a high tolerance for cinematic violence and a reflexive disdain for all things PG-13, but I have to admit this hard R-rated French movie pushes a lot of uncomfortable buttons, which is of course what the filmmakers intended.  Martyrs (2008), by director Pascal Laugier, is a French take on a 70’s exploitation revenge movie in a similar vein to I Spit on Your Grave (1978) and Ms. 45 (1981).  Much like Trouble Every Day (2001), Martyrs is cited as one of the pinnacles of the New French Extremism horror movement, and it is serious, brutal and unrelenting.  And yet there are scenes of cinematic beauty, like the bloody room full of floating down feathers after a shotgun blast through a duvet that immediately comes to mind.
Morjana Alaoui and Mylène Jampanoï play Anna and Lucie, two young women on a mission to wreak revenge on the cult that kidnapped and tortured Lucie as a young girl.  About the same age and with similar hairstyles, they spend most of the movie covered in blood until it becomes difficult to actually tell them apart.  I think this is the filmmaker’s intention, as the movie flirts with identity and how a personality fractures under extreme psychological and physical torture.
The violence is nothing you haven't seen before in movies like Hellraiser (1987), Hostel (2005) or any Quentin Tarantino movie, but when you take that level of violence out of the supernatural or crime fantasy framework you’re left with humans hurting humans, and that newly found verisimilitude is difficult to process.  Martyrs is difficult to watch, it will make you question your commitment to the horror genre.  The audience cares for these characters on a level that is rarely seen in American movies of similar themes, and that’s where those tricky French filmmakers get you.
Part of the fun of watching Saw and Hostel (yes, fun, I’ve seen all 7 Saws and all 3 Hostels) was that in some twisted way the audience was manipulated into feeling these characters somehow deserved to be tortured; we were made complicit by Eli Roth, the characters were written that way.  Martyrs doesn’t allow for any such emotional conveniences; we are not complicit in the scenes of violence and torture, we, along with the victims, are assaulted by them.

With a soundtrack by French electronica group Seppuku Paradigm, which I mention because they have such a cool name.


my first novel? thanks for asking:) I wrote a 4 book supernatural martial arts series concerning the ongoing feud between a group of kung-fu killer witches in san francsico’s chinatown.