Martyrs (2009)
Directed by Pascal Laugier

Starring Catherine Begin Morjana Alaoui Mylène Jampanoï Robert Toupin

Personally, I'm sick and tired of horror movies that have people tied up in chairs getting tortured. I mean, enough of this. Once I saw the chair with the bedpan underneath it in "Martyrs", I thought: "Please, no more of this. This isn't shocking anymore. It isn't scary. It's been done to death. It was done in 'Hostel'. It was scary then. Now it's cliche."

So, as you can tell already, I'm not a huge fan of the much raved about "Martyrs," finally getting released to DVD in the U.S. after receiving so much applause on the festival circuit. "Martyrs" may be the most overrated horror movie of the past couple years. I've been reading about how amazing and incredible it is for months, with festival reviews claiming it was a "landmark film," etc. So expectations for me were high. Way high.

No, it isn't a landmark and it's not unique. "Martyrs" is initially shocking and strong, but eventually falls apart once we are informed about what the hell is going on. It's sort of "Hostel" disguised as a horror art film. It takes itself way, way too seriously.

The film opens pretty strong, however. After we learn about the horrific childhood of a girl who escaped from a torture chamber, eventually befriending another girl, we meet the two survivors as adults. In a sudden, insane shotgun attack, the now grown up young victim bursts into a household wearing a Litttleton-like hood (Mylène Jampanoï) and proceeds shotgun an entire family to death. This is the best scene in the movie. Almost worth the price of admission alone.

The girl's motive is that apparently the parents were responsible for kidnapping and torturing her as a child. Her childhood friend (Morjana Alaoui) shows up and attempts to clean up the mess. To make matters even worse, the shooter is apparently schizophrenic, sees visions of a deformed torture victim -- and gouges herself with a knife every chance she gets.

The gun attack on the family is sudden, strong stuff and for a while there we think we are going to be watching another French gore classic -- a la "High Tension." Then the story starts to unfold. Our shooter kills herself, leaving her friend alone in the house, where she discovers a dungeon in the basement, and another torture victim! Turns out there is some kind of bizarre cult of the rich and powerful torturing young women with the hope of turning them into "martyrs" who see visions of the afterlife or something like that.

After the shooter commits suicide, her friend is left around to be tied to a chair and tortured in unspeakable ways. Laugier takes the torture to "Hellraiser" levels -- and maybe that's why he was actually tapped to helm a remake of Clive Barker's movie.

But his most famous movie so far, "Martrys" is a misfire. As torture porn films go, it's worse than most of the "Saw" films. As mysteries go, it's a little better -- but ultimately doesn't make sense. Granted, the idea behind "Hostel" is ultimately unbelievable too. But unlike "Martyrs", "Hostel" didn't take itself seriously. "Martyrs" is super, super serious. There's not an ounce of humor in this movie, which is probably the worst thing about it. Even "High Tension" -- heck, even "Inside" -- had a sense of humor. Over seriousness is the kiss of death for a horror movie, in my opinion.

So we've just learned that not all French horror movies are masterpieces. Why this film received so many accolades during its festival run is beyond me. I suspect on its true release to audiences, it will get the reception it deserves: a cold one.

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-- Review by Lucius Gore

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