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"They did not finish to be alive...": Martyrs (2008) Film Analysis

Updated on October 16, 2010

There are no saints alongside these 'martyrs'...



Author's Note:

First and foremost, this film is the first (and up until Paranormal Activity, the only) movie that literally had me stricken with unease. The viewing may have been further enhanced by using a 106'' projector screen and theatre-style seating. I immensely enjoyed the film and fully agree with's statement that Martyrs is "the new yardstick against which all forms of extreme genre films should be measured against". That quote doesn't imply the film is for everyone, even some self-proclaimed horror fans. What it means is you will witness a terrifying journey into the hell of depravity. That is all I will say. You have been warned.


We are shown an opening scene of a young girl, starved and badly beated, running while crying out for help. Her name is Lucie, a survivor from what...we don't immediately learn. Whatever occurred, it has left her withdrawn, unable to speak of the things she saw. Furthermore, the events paralyze Lucie's ability to interact and socialize with others until she meets Anna. They form a necessary, sometimes difficult, friendship. Flashfoward years later and Anna is found bound in a quest for vengeance upon Lucie's captors. What Anna doesn't realize is she too will experience exactly what Lucie did.

There is something to be said for making Hostel, the first to be coined a "torture porn" flick in what is now a resurgence of the horror sub-genre, look tame by comparison. I must agree there is both torture and porn here. However, the reasons are not profit or entertainment-based, but psychological and, strangely, spiritual. The films director, Pascal Laguier, creates a film with two halves that show each aspect simultaneousy while giving away few details. The first involves Lucie and her struggles in the aftermath of her captivity. Lucie's psychological unravel (not unlike Teddy Daniels from Shutter Island) leaves her immersed in a world of severe paranoia and vivid hallucinations. An alleged woman-creature stalks her that only she can see. The woman is actually another illusion of a girl she was unable to save from her escape. Completely unable to cope, Lucie committs suicide, and pushes Anna into the second portion of the story. In these scenes, she is to experience the identital torture from twelve years prior, and more importantly, learn answers to three key questions: who, what and why.

- Who: The torture is done by an unknown organization. The film doesn't give much detail other than they have gained strength in size and method since Lucie's ill-fated escape. Near the end of the film, a meeting is held. The individuals in the room are old, well-dressed, clean-cut and of a scientific, medical or academic background. They all share a common interest in the pending announcement (something to do with Anna perhaps?).

- What: A torture of the worst kind is on display: the realistic one. The film poster at the top of the article shows the room and the abused chained to the wall, forced to use a chair with a hole cut in the seat as a toilet. Their hair is shaved and they are left in shredded clothing. No true food intake is permitted sans a daily dish of spoon-fed green goo. Methodical torture is commenced by the captors every few days, which includes beatings, slappings and whippings. All of this seems to be coordinated with a time-table schedule.

- Why: While I previously stated psychological elements to the film, the 'why' is where spiritual aspects comes into play (as noted in paragraph three). My guess is this is the devil's work. The organization, and individuals running it, are in essence searching for the question of the afterlife. For the torture to be effective, the abused must be a young woman in a specified age range. The experiments with this demographic have shown to yield the most desired results (those being the thinly veiled bridge between life and death). After the torture takes a deathly psychological and physical toll on the subject, the mind transcends these physical properties and becomes a direct link to the afterlife. Unfortunately for the organization, only few women are able to withstand the initial process to reach such an experience. Those who do not end up at this plateau are left to permanent mental anguish and psyche damage, as displayed by Lucie. Anna, however, ends up being one of the few "martyrs" whose only purpose is to answer a new set of questions: What is death? How does it feel? What do you see? The final scene, which I won't give away, cryptically answers them all.

diving into much deeper and darker territory...



By plot and story alone, it doesn't sound as though it strays far from the torture 'brat pack'. Don't be fooled, however. Laugier beautifully paints an ugly picture, calling to mind directors like Gaspar Noe, Phillippe Grandrieux or Michael Haneke. With Funny Games, Haneke's film bolsters a clear message testing our love (and hatred) for violence in film. Here, this works identically with the same thought in mind. Like Funny Games, is it wrong for someone to enjoy a film like Martyrs? One could argue and find validity on both sides of the argument. To me, you still might be missing a particularly important point.

The spiritual element proves to be telling about humankind and its obsession with the afterlife. We try to prevent death itself through advancements in the areas of science, medicine, technology and health. Some turn to belief in a higher power to provide for them in the present as well as the unknown future. In one interview after the film opening, Laugier himself gave indication of a personal disgust with modern life. "On a metaphorical way, horror was the perfect tool to react to the feeling I had, like a sad intuition, that the world we're living in right now is a brutal and unfair one." Despite being a fictitous story, Laugier could be saying that human beings (not just females in particular) already are torture subjects channeled through various medical, health, science and technology 'experiments' in the endless search for the reality of life after death. In today's case, it could be anything from a doctor's visit (staying healthy), drug trials (eliminating disease), endurance tests (physiology, or otherwise known as studying the function of life), manned space flights (seeking other forms of life or resources elsewhere in the universe), atom/particle smashers (understanding the nature of reality and the human experience), etc. All serve the identical purpose of trying to prevent death through self-achieved immortality.

...Remember that final scene I said I wouldn't give away? Whether intentional or not, let's just say it will forever give you a warped view on the famous saying, "the grass is always greener on the other side" (or is it the grass isn't always greener? I can't recall.).


Armed with lots of bite, Martyrs also proves difficult to swallow. I still have the same unease pass through me even after totaling seven separate viewings. Yet I continue to be enamored by the raw emotion and cold violence that begs for a cult following. The inclusion of the woman as a Ring-inspired ghost monster isn't overpowering on purpose. What I saw was a horror film placing high emphasis on drama. Lucie and Anna preyed on the audience's sympathy by crying, screaming, and getting tortured for 99 minutes! I have read that Laugier has sold rights for an upcoming U.S. remake. I see no need for an obvious watering down of such an original and unforgiving piece of art.

YouTube - Martyrs (2008) Film Trailer

Amazon - Martyrs (2008) Film DVD


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