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Film / Martyrs

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"Martyrs are exceptional people. They survive pain, they survive total deprivation. They bear all the sins of the earth. They give themselves up. They transcend themselves... they are transfigured."

Martyrs is a 2008 French-Canadian horror film written and directed by Pascal Laugier, starring Morjana Alaoui and Mylène Jampanoï. Due to its pervasive graphic violence and heavy themes, it's a heavily polarizing film often deemed one of the most disturbing of all time, and it's one of the most well-known films associated with the New French Extremity movement.

The story is about Lucie, a torture victim who escapes from her captors. She's sent to an orphanage where she meets and befriends Anna, a fellow child abuse victim. While the police and the media investigated Lucie's predicament, the perpetrators were never caught, so Anna pledges to help Lucie track them down. Fifteen years later, Lucie seizes the chance to have her revenge, and things spiral out of control from there.

The film received an American remake in 2016 from Blumhouse Productions. While the remake is Lighter and Softer than the original film, it's not any easier a watch for the faint of heart.


Martyrs offers examples of:

  • Affably Evil: The Mademoiselle.
  • Adults Are Useless: The police and the media.
  • American Kirby Is Hardcore: Inverted. This movie was released with the page image as the poster in most regions. However, the Japanese poster was this (possible spoiler alert).
  • Ancient Conspiracy: The torturers.
  • And I Must Scream: Anna's final state: skinned alive and left in a catatonic state, her expression petrified.
  • Ate His Gun: The Mademoiselle at the end, after Anna tells her the secrets of the afterlife. What aspects of Anna's confession drove her to suicide are left unknown.
  • Audience Surrogate: Anna.
  • Ax-Crazy: Lucie.
  • Badass Longcoat: The mooks who arrive at the house halfway through the movie wear these.
  • Beauty Is Never Tarnished: Averted heavily with Anna, who's almost unrecognizable by the end.
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  • Being Tortured Makes You Evil: Lucie is hounded by a fellow torture victim who never forgave her for running away. She exists only in Lucie's mind and resembles what Lucie would have been had she not escaped.
  • Big Bad: The Mademoiselle.
  • Blown Across the Room: This happens right after the father opens the door for Lucie, at which she shoots him with a shotgun. It also occurs when the rest of the family are shot.
  • Body Horror:
    • The steel face mask and the "diaper" are stapled into the victim.
    • Anna after she is flayed.
  • Break the Cutie: Possibly one of the most brutal examples ever with Lucie and Anna.
  • Chunky Salsa Rule: Lucie vs. the wife. The second blow is followed by a closeup shot of the skull caving in, and she keeps hammering away for a while.
  • Cold-Blooded Torture: The premise of the film and modus operandi of the villains.
  • Decoy Protagonist: Anna's the main protagonist, even if the first half of the movie focuses on Lucie.
  • Devil in Plain Sight: The torturers act like normal people, and the cellar is very well hidden.
  • Downer Ending: Anna survives, but is left catatonic, and most of the torturers get away with everything.
  • Driven to Suicide: Lucie cuts her own throat after taking her revenge, and the Mademoiselle shoots herself at the very end after learning about the afterlife.
  • Euroshlock: Obviously.
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": The Mademoiselle.
  • Evil Old Folks: The Mademoiselle.
  • Force Feeding: Anna is tied to a chair and force-fed some protein goo on the first days - or maybe weeks - of her captivity. After some time of torture, abuse and isolation, she's too weak and broken to resist being fed.
  • Foreign Remake: An American remake was released in 2016 with some changes from the original.
  • For Science!: The torturers do not do it for the sake of sadistic pleasure, and it is repeatedly emphasized that no overt sexual abuse happens to the victims. Rather, it is for the sake of Mademoiselle trying to observe and study the afterlife.
  • Full-Frontal Assault: Lucie's tormentor is completely nude and covered in scars.
  • Go Mad from the Revelation: One interpretation of what happens to the Mademoiselle.
  • Gorn: Plenty, most notably Anna being skinned alive.
  • Karma Houdini: Most of the torturers get away completely scot free. The only remote upside is that the family that tortured Lucie and the Mademoiselle are both dead. There's a case to be made that this was subverted, however — or subverted twice, depending on your perspective. Whatever the Mademoiselle heard, it caused her to immediately shoot herself in the head. From a certain point of view, this can be taken as a sign that it was All for Nothing, and that their whole Ancient Conspiracy — despite nominally working — was an utter failure.
  • Kick the Morality Pet: Anna's not sure whether Lucie's really found the real torturers or just slaughtered an innocent family.
  • Kick the Son of a Bitch: They really had it coming.
  • Lighter and Softer: The Foreign Remake is this with much of the graphic violence toned down. It also has a 'happier' ending with the torturers being killed.
  • Medical Horror: The Torture Cellar is quite refined and utilitarian.
  • Motive Rant: The Mademoiselle calmly gives Anna a presentation on what the conspiracy is about and what they want to accomplish.
  • Mouth Stitched Shut: The tormentor's lips were sewn shut.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: Lucie's tormentor is initially shown only in glimpses because she doesn't exist.
  • Not Quite Dead: The wife survives Lucie's shotgun blast. Anna tries to help her, but Lucie catches her in the act and kills the wife with a hammer.
  • Offscreen Afterlife: Only Anna knows for sure.
  • One-Word Title: Martyrs
  • Orphanage of Fear: Lucie and Anna get assigned to one.
  • Primal Fear: As the torture progresses, the victims are turned into atrophied, feral shells of their former selves.
  • Punch-Clock Villain: The torturers live like normal people when off-duty.
  • The Remake: A US version was made in 2016. It is generally considered quite inferior. Major differences occurred midway on: Lucie is captured rather than killing herself, Anna escapes to rescue her and alerts the police (so the torturers won't go unpunished-she also kills several). However still Lucie dies near the end, with both her and Anna viewing whatever the afterlife is.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Deconstructed. Lucie goes on one against those she thinks tortured her, but even after she kills them all, the manifested Survivor Guilt she has from her imprisonment continues to haunt her and eventually drives her to suicide.
  • The Sociopath: The Mademoiselle acts like an affable philosopher, but thinks nothing of torturing people to death in an obsessive quest to find the secrets of the afterlife.
  • Spoiler Cover: See American Kirby Is Hardcore above, that poster shows the emaciated torture victim whom Anna later rescues from the underground dungeon as the Face on the Cover.
  • Survivor Guilt: The creature that stalks Lucie is revealed to be a psychological manifestation of her guilt for leaving behind another torture victim as she escaped.
  • Sympathetic Murderer: Lucie murders her torturers and their children. However, given what they did to her, and the obvious mental illness it caused her, she doesn't really lose sympathy.
  • Through the Eyes of Madness: Just how crazy is Lucie?
  • Torture Cellar: The setting of the second half of the movie.
  • To the Pain: The Big Bad tells Anna exactly what they're going to do and why they do it.
  • Tragic Monster: The second torture victim.
  • The Unreveal: Near the end, Anna whispers something to Mademoiselle, and the audience doesn't hear it. The rest of the conspiracy doesn't hear it either, because the Mademoiselle blows her brains out shortly afterwards.