I have two things to say.
1) It's hot and I'm whiny; and
2) I watched a movie two weeks ago that blew my mind and I'm finally ready to say something about it.
I literally had to take some time out to let this movie roll around in my head a while to decide what I wanted to say about it. Which is about a third of the time it took for me to get the nerve up to watch it. It sat at the top of my Netflix list for about six weeks listed as available. I lost track of the number of times I moved it from the number one spot to a somewhat safer placing a little further down the line. I'd heard so much about this movie yet I somehow (thankfully) managed to avoid hearing TOO much. Finally I decided I better watch it because the hosts (and call in guests) of my favorite horror radio show, Deadpit.com, were talking so much about it that I was afraid I'd end up hearing the whole plotline before I finally sat down to watch it.
What I knew about the movie was that torture was among the main themes of the movie. What I kept hearing was how horrifying and difficult to watch it was. But - what I also kept hearing was that it was worth it, and that it was possibly the best horror film of the year. Plus - it was also French - and if you're any kind of horror fan whatsoever, you've got to be somewhat aware that France has been kicking out some pretty intense (but fantastic) horror movies in the last few years. While we in the good old USA, home of Hollywood, tend to either get Saw sequels or remakes of movies that were actually good. Or we get lame crap like The Unborn, The Haunting of Sarah What'sHerFace, or The Orphan.
So I tend to either rewatch my favorites or search out independent or foreign horror movies when I hear about them on the grapevine. I again give a shout out to Deadpit, because as a grad student I don't always have time to keep up on the latest, but I always have time to listen to their show while I do mindless (but necessary) tasks like cooking dinner and doing laundry. I just want to take a moment of silence to give thanks for the internet, mp3 players, and podcasting.
So between Rue Morgue, Deadpit, and my brother (here's his review) this movie was definitely on my radar. So I finally left it in the number one spot and it came. And then I took a week to watch it.
Part of my trepidation concerned another French film that I think is just about one of the most frightening films I've ever seen, called Inside. I lost track of the number of times I either swore or covered my eyes, or both. I recently watched it again with a friend (who asked me before hand if the warnings on the box really lived up to their promise - and wholeheartedly agreed afterwards that they did) and I had just as much trouble and turmoil watching it the second time as the first. So based on my experience of Inside, and everything I heard going in, I was scared as hell to watch it.
Now - I am a true horror film fanatic. I've been watching horror films since my preschool years. I love them all from the silents to the Universal classics to Hammer to exploitation to the slasher films of the 80's. I'm constantly searching out new things from the 30's to the 80's looking for films I may have missed. Unfortunately with that many films behind me, I'm also somewhat jaded, as we true horror fans tend to me. I'm lucky if I blink fast during the 'scary' parts. The most I can hope for is maybe some well done makeup effects or some memorable imagery. I don't ever watch horror films anymore expecting to be scared.
That is until French people started all this nonsense. It started (for me) with a free pass to see a preview of High Tension a few years ago. If you haven't seen High Tension, bookmark this page, turn off your computer, and go watch it. Now. I'll wait.
I had no idea that a movie could still put me on the edge of my seat - literally. I usually rewatch my old favorites with a bit of nostalgia recalling how those movies made me feel when I was a kid watching them for the first time. I've never EVER seen a movie in at least the last ten years that put me firmly and squarely back in my pre-teenage self and made me remember what it was like to watch those movies for the first time. AND a female protagonist to boot. It was a gift from the horror movie gods.
I'll save my reviews of the other French films I've seen for another post - I have a couple others lined up to watch in the next week - and get back to Martyrs. I've said often enough before that you don't need to give me ALL the answers. In fact, I prefer to leave a movie with a mystery or two to ponder in my head. Having said that, there's a fine line between leaving purposeful gaps and creating a stink pile of nonsense that lacks any kind of real logic at its center. (See- Haunting of Molly Hoo-Ha)
I also do NOT enjoy watching movies that contain violence merely for violence's sake. I quit watching the Saw franchise after part 3 when halfway through the movie I felt queasy and kind of, well, dirty inside. Another movie that illustrates this phenomenon perfectly to me is the Australian film Wolf Creek. I went to the theater to see it and honestly just wanted to walk out. I felt like the three characters had no other purpose in the film other than to be maimed and tortured. It was literally a movie where three young people run into a bad man, and he kills them painfully and slowly. And that's the entire film. The End.
I realize that there is an audience for films like Saw (obviously- they still make a mint) and Wolf Creek. And that's perfectly fine with me - I applaud and encourage people to make any kind of film that they choose to. But if you're going to graphically maim and dismember people in front of my eyes, you need to give me more than that to get me to watch your movie. You've got to make your story compelling enough that I'm willing to watch those images. In other words, take me somewhere and make me feel something other than wanting to throw up and take a shower.
Now I know some people might point out that I watch all kinds of films with violence and gore that have absolutely no redeeming qualities whatsoever. And I don't think that every horror movie needs a social statement. Sometimes it's just pure fun. Sometimes gore and violence are tongue in cheek. For instance, I don't take the Friday the 13th or Halloween films seriously at all. To me they're our generation's version of Grimm's fairy tales. Fairy tales contained warnings imbedded within them. If you're naughty, the witch will get you. Friday the 13th has the same message. Do drugs, have premarital sex, and Jason will get you. Jason, Freddy, and Michael Myers are all just different versions of the Boogeyman.
Back to Martyrs - so I went into this film with all kinds of trepidation. Hell, even the director provides an intro in which he says that you might hate him after you watch the film. But overall - I have to say that the film was less hard for me to watch (going by the total number of times I literally covered my eyes - once - vs about a half dozen for Inside) than I thought it was going to be. I pretty much attribute this to all the warnings I had going in. It is NOT a pretty film. It is violent and graphic and bloody and there are all sorts of things being done to women in this film that you probably never wanted to imagine.
I don't really even want to get into a plot synopsis - it wouldn't be difficult to find one if you're really interested. I think the less you know about this movie, the more you'll get out of it. I will say however, that it's almost like three films in one - it literally has acts that unfold one after the other - and with every act you slip deeper and deeper into depravity. Instead, if anything I've said has made you curious, take a deep breath, rent it, and hold on. Oh - and probably don't eat dinner while you watch this, either.
I don't think this film is for everyone. It's one of the most twisted things I have ever seen in my life. But it also made me think - and it kept me thinking long after the movie was over. Unfortunately I can't really explain any of that without giving away some major plot points - but suffice it to say I really do feel that this is a film that goes beyond its harsh images to be provocative and to leave its imprint on your mind. And it wasn't the torture scenes that I kept coming back to as I thought of it - it was more character motivation, plot, just the whole general depravity of what was going on in the film. I'm not dying to watch it again - but I'd definitely add it to my collection and someday, I"ll be brave enough to watch it again.