Monday, November 07, 2011


(2008) * 1/2


It's so easy to create a victim, young lady. So easy.
You lock someone in a dark room. They begin to suffer. You feed that suffering, methodically, systematically, and coldly. And make it last. Your subject goes through a number of states. After awhile that trauma, that small, easily-opened crack makes them see things that don't exist. What did poor Lucie see?
Nothing? Not even a monster or two? Things that wanted to hurt her?
People no longer envisage suffering, young lady. That's how the world is. There are nothing but victims left. Martyrs are very rare.

A martyr is something else. Martyrs are extraordinary beings. 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 . . .
All of them, young lady. . . Don't try to tell me that the notion of martyrdom is an invention of the religious. We tried everything, even children.
It turns out that women are more responsive to transfiguration. That's how it is, young lady.”

A young girl escapes from a cold warehouse with her skin sliced up, her body malnourished and her spirit clearly broken. She attends a boarding school after being discovered, and begins a lifelong friendship with another student, Anna. Fifteen years following the unknown events at the warehouse, her childhood demons and the real-life monsters responsible for her suffering remain. The first half of the movie feels like the outside world is irrelevant because as a viewer you are so drawn to the two young women and their struggles together. As bleak as this all seems, when I reflected later I realized I couldn't stand the second half of Martyrs because it ceased to be escapist for me and the fun of Horrorthon left me faster than the air of a punctured balloon animal from a deranged clown.

It's taken me a real long time to process all the shit that I saw in Martyrs. I'm not going to reveal it all to you. All I'm going to say is that it's been a really long time since I saw something that still shakes me up just thinking about it. If that's enough for you to add it to a list of movies to see, then great. If you're still wondering why I've ranked it lower than such cinema garbage as Blood Harvest or the unenthusiastic 13 Hours in a Warehouse, allow me to delineate:

Ima take ya'll on a roadtrip through MY MIND
I felt that showing the pain the women experienced in Martyrs is glorification of suffering – and justifying that it “worked” to “create” a martyr in young women – is counterproductive to actually ending domestic violence and, for lack of a better word, terrorism to los pobres that cannot fight against the motives of the ruling class to exploit them. Kidnapping and depriving a person from love, family, and community, and subjecting them to physical violence stirred up everything that I had ever seen and/or experienced since I understood the concept of human rights.
I think that humankind's greatest inhumanity to themselves is the level of torture performed upon others. The second greatest inhumanity, perhaps, is glorifying it through a medium and genre that is traditionally used to zap us away from reality for a few short hours.

JSP pointed out in a comment to his Martyrs review that we can watch movies for Horrorthon and continue to be “well-adjusted” human beings because of the way we were brought up, how we learn to cope, etc. I include myself in that category; but, the one thing I'd add is that it makes us ignorant to the most terrible things that others must face everyday. How many do we know that have been victims of physical abuse, or wronged incarceration, malnutrition, humiliation, and/or exploitation? I'm not undermining my upbringing, or anyone else's, or saying that you're immune to it.

It's the perception that we are so far removed from this ever happening to us that you begin to believe that it MUSTN'T happen to real people. The suffering experienced by the young women in Martyrs only happens in isolated situations, with trained professionals, and is overseen by productive members of society. Catfreeek pointed out that H-Thon movies don't usually generate much moral discussion, but Martyrs is the exception. I applaud this observation, primarily because I feel that when we come across a bunch of “dots,” points in innovation and genius in our respective lives, we very rarely ever stop to think to connect them. And Martyrs definitely provides a lot of dots.
Even while I write this I'm still thinking to myself, “I've rated this so low but given it so much goddamn thought and time.” I could analyze this as a film, a work of art, a composition of impeccable color and cinematography with exquisitely-constructed dialog that accomplishes exactly what it set out to do. And it is, indeed, beautifully created. But there are so many different themes in the content that are intense and extreme and inherently wrong that to not bring up issues like domestic violence or violation of basic human rights would be excusing the very acts that Martyrs inadvertently glorifies.


Octopunk said...

Wow. Slamming review.

This is one of my unreviewed movies from Horrorthon 2009, and I mean to get to it still. Unfortunately that means I'm going to have to watch it again. But without revisiting it I can say that 1) I'll rate it much higher, and 2) I didn't find myself repulsed on a real/personal level the way you were, but I do kind of feel that way about Hostel.

I'm psyched you rated it as you did, and why. Part of watching movies, horror or otherwise, is finding the precise borders of your comfort zone when it comes to fiction. Usually that means crossing them.

Catfreeek said...

Martyrs does cross that line of comfort, that is why it works. It's really no different in story then an old Vincent Price medieval torture or Spanish inquisition film. The difference is that it brings it to modern time, it says, hey folks, these monsters are still around, and it does it so well that we are convinced. I don't agree with your rating, but I respect why you did it.

Oh and you should probably never, ever watch Dead Girl.

Abduscias said...

Have you seen The Woman?..

Crystal Math said...

Abduscias, I haven't seen The Woman. And Catfreeek I read a couple of reviews of Deadgirl last year, and never had any intention of watching it :-P

I don't know who modified the review to read "[SPOILER ALERT]" but in a way I'm thankful that they did -- it wasn't my intention to spoil anything but now that I think about it I had to in order to discuss it to the length that I wanted.

Johnny Sweatpants said...

Fantastic review Crystal and you raised some excellent points that I'd like to address (but work keeps getting in the way of Horrorthon dammit!)

Watching Martyrs for the 2nd time was actually more difficult than the first because I knew exactly what to expect and therefore the feeling of hope was extinguished. .

I believe JPX added the spoiler tag. It's nearly impossible to write about this movie without spoiling it.

Johnny Sweatpants said...

I read it again and I completely understand your viewpoint. You gave credit where it was due but ultimately you found only a negative value.

I won't defend Martyrs by saying it makes a profound statement. It didn't attempt to address domestic violence or human rights. I think the primary goal was to strike terror in the very core of the viewer by mining the depths of inhumanity and in that sense it succeeded. What did she whisper?

Crystal, I guess it comes down to this: in retrospect would you rather have never watched it?

DCD said...

Love this review, Crystal! "Torture porn" or whatever you want to call it has never held an interest for me. I have had no interest in seeing this movie, and even less then that now. Excellent job in really making your point!