I have witnessed in recent years as Hollywood has realised horror is a cash cow the level of care taken in creating these pictures has reduced and the quality has taken a turn for the worse. This is in large part due to the fact that the valued teen and young adult demographic (basically the guys n gals that watch films almost every week) are willing to watch anything in the genre, hence the Saw franchise being so successful, and a horror movie topping the box office seemingly every other week. Realistically, when the films are so cheap to make and the takings so fruitful, why would you bother taking more time or spending more cash on the product and diluting your profits.
A horror flick can be made with a minimal effects budget (aside from fake blood and gore), no-name actors and again referencing Saw a reasonable turnaround time, (a new Saw film is released at Halloween each year).
It is because of this, and the fact that the genre has become predictable over time that horror fans have looked abroad for their scares.
In the early “dubbo’s” Asian horror was the go, with mood and suspense being valued over gore and the “person jumping onto frame from off screen” cheapie scares. Unfortunately over-reaching for a new gimmick (an evil phone?) and pointless Hollywood remakes have killed interest, though that hasn’t stopped them being made.
Now it seems the time for Europe to have a crack at taking horror in a new direction. I’ve seen European horror in the past, but it seems in the last few years the output of the area has increased dramatically. More importantly the films are gaining more respect from aficionados, rather than the critics, who shouldn’t review the films if they don’t respect the genre, but that’s another topic.
So another trip to the video store and a 3 minute linger at the “Arthouse” section and here we go.
This started promisingly enough, in the first five minutes I was reminded of some Japanese horror flicks, all this changed after the initial (brief) credits, where mood made way for blood n guts and attempts to throw the audience off the trail.
In fact this movie changed so much at about the half way point that it almost was like Three Extremes or Grindhouse, where multiple directors contribute to make a collective “work”. If cinemas still had an interval they could have marketed this as a double bill, because if the lead actress wasn’t the same you could be forgiven for thinking that you were watching another movie.
So I’ll review the film twice.
Martyrs – First 45 minutes.
A bit similar to Hard Candy, you can’t tell what is real and what is imagined, who is sane and who is nutso. You know something bad is happening, that is painfully obvious from the first shotgun blast to the gut, but you don’t really know why the victims are being victimised, nor if the perpetrator is an avenging angel or a skitzo bitch, and really you’re not meant to.
I actually thought the first half was leading somewhere good, the pre-credits sequence shows why the two lead actresses are so close, and sort of justifies each of their actions, and why Lucie (the aggressor) does what she does, with Anna as the protector. It appears that Lucie’s actions are designed as payback for both a personal wronging and to avenge another victim that Lucie met only fleetingly, and who appears as a personal reminder to Lucie in high stress situations, something the first half has a lot of.
I liked the first half, was confused by it until near the end but was willing to go with the flow until it unfolded, only the director had other plans. Go grab some popcorn and an $8 watered down drink. We’ll be back in a moment.
Martyrs – The second 45 minutes.
Don’t worry if you missed the last 45 minutes, it doesn’t really matter but the front end of our double bill was a nice little example of misdirection with some brutal violence and pretty reasonable acting. The only carryover from that is the lead actress Anna, who finds herself in a position where she must endure what no-one should, for reasons that simply don’t provide anything resembling justification for both the punishment and arguably the making of this film.
One reason that movie lovers look overseas for alternatives is to experience something new and different, Asian horror until recently showed better imagination for where horror can be found, I am now positive that in general Europe has a willingness to go further, more “extreme” if you will, for longer and basically carry situations far beyond what America might find as a logical conclusion.
There is a 25 minute period in Martyrs – Part 2 where dialogue is minimal and the experience is so unrelenting and linear that they lost me, I gave up. I knew what they were doing and where they were going but I really didn’t care anymore.
I have no doubt that if the film was in English it would be held up as the poster child for pushing the boundaries of taste, (putting the subtitles at the bottom of the screen automatically ensures you get some slack as a film maker, as critics fear the reprisals of a bad review as not “getting it”).
I can’t explain what happens as even a basic outline gives the plot away because it really is that simple, that one note. The director tries to explain and justify the sequence through a 2 minute scene, but the explanation is that flimsy that I found the ensuing action only worthy of contempt, rather than the wide eyed revulsion and shock that I guess the director intended.
There was no twist, nothing to lighten proceedings or even to break up the periods of tension, and although what happens to the victim is indeed shocking and the actions deplorable, once you no longer are emotionally involved in what is happening it is simply going through the motions. Which is exactly what I did until the credits rolled.
Final Rating – 4.5 / 10. Yeah it’s extreme (whatever that means anymore), but with a lightweight plot conceived only to justify what follows only gore lovers will find solace, (and there isn’t really much gore).
If you are a woman in a horror movie these days expect to be punished mentally and physically, I am a firm believer in equality but even I am finding that the pushing of the boundaries has gotten away from entertainment and is now more about showing how far a director is willing to go.
I’ll leave it to you to decide if this is really entertainment, I myself am giving it a rest for a while and am even looking forward for a return to some join the dots plots and the well worn cliches that only a year or so ago I grew tired of.