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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 horror film written and directed by Pascal Laugier, starring Morjane Alaoui and Mylène Jampanoï. Due to its pervasive graphic violence and bleak 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:

  • 20 Minutes into the Past: Released in 2008, set in an unspecified time in the 1990s. The biggest giveaway to the period is that nobody has a mobile phone, but this has no bearing on the plot.
  • 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 kills an entire family because she saw their photo (in a newspaper report about a swimming competition), and thought that the parents looked like the people who kidnapped and tortured her fifteen years ago.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The 2016 remake changes the ending so that Anna is able to escape her captors and rescue Lucie, killing many of the cult members in the process, including their leader Eleanor. However, both she and Lucie succumb to their wounds just as the police arrive on the scene. At the very least, Anna was able to spare Sam from the violence, and the existence of the cult is exposed to the authorities.
  • 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.
  • Contrived Coincidence: The entire present-day portion of the film happens because a regional newspaper prints a story about a junior swimming competition, and Lucie sees the story and recognises the parents in the photo.
  • 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 Is Not Well-Lit: The torture dungeon is consistently dimly lit, when it might make more sense for it to be brightly lit when the torturers are working, and for the lights to be turned off when the prisoner is alone.
  • 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.
  • Info Drop: The torturers describe their victims as martyrs on several occasions. Before the credits roll, a bit of on-screen text tells us that "martyr" comes from the Ancient Greek word for "witness." The torturers want to know what their victims see when they are on the boundary between life and death. Not essential to understanding the plot, but still nice to know.
  • 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.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Anna phones her estranged mother after Lucie has been revealed to be Axe-Crazy. Mother is generally rude and hostile. However, she's not wrong when she says that "that girl" is a bad influence, and that Anna should dump her.
  • 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.
  • Parental Abandonment: Anna and Lucie became friends in an orphanage.
    • A brief telephone conversation in the present establishes that Anna is estranged from her mother, but we never learn why she was put into the orphanage.
    • Lucie escaped from being kidnapped as a child. We never learn why she was put into the orphanage, instead of being reclaimed by her parents.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Unrated Edition: The film was released to DVD in the United States this way, being released in both an R-rated version that featured several scenes deleted from the French version, whilst the original cut was released unrated.