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Scott Derrickson

Martyrs

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Having just viewed this for the second time, I think it's one of the best horror films of all time - and unquestionably one of the most profound and meaningful intersections of art and faith in any genre.

It is also the most brutally violent movie ever made.  

 

A lawless movie if there ever was one, yet a deep exploration into the meaning of suffering, dark transcendence, the afterlife, and the limits of questing for knowledge. 

I am surprised there has not been more conversation about this masterwork on this site.

 

Be warned, I have seen everything in this genre, and this is as dark and graphic as it gets - but the film is ultimately beautiful and simply astonishing.

 

24 hours after my second viewing I cannot get it out of my head.  It has made me think so deeply about so many things today.

 

I can hardly believe this film exists.

Edited by Scott Derrickson

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Thanks, Scott. Somehow, this one few completely under the radar for me. I'll put it in my queue.

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Having just viewed this for the second time, I think it's one of the best horror films of all time - and unquestionably one of the most profound and meaningful intersections of art and faith in any genre.

I very much look forward to something a little more in depth about the "profound and meaningful intersections of art and faith." Because I don't remember anything like that. At all. I do however remember this:

 

It is also the most brutally violent movie ever made. 

 

It is a part of the French New Wave of Horror (which almost developed into something a few years back, but really consists of perhaps ten films that were made around the same time). This might be the most well known from those years. But I think the most brutally violent film ever made might also come the French Extremity films, and it is Inside.

 

Jeffrey, you will hate this film. But maybe that's Scott's point. I'm a little befuddled at his mention of it and quite honestly look forward to seeing how the thread develops.

 

And I'm quite open to taking another look at Martyrs. I certainly agree that it's one that stays in the head for a while.

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INSIDE is perhaps more grotesque but I definitely think MARTYRS is more brutally violent.

Jeffrey, I don't know if you could make it through this film - but I can promise you that the violence is deeply purposeful. It's not a film any sane person can enjoy - it is an experience one endures. But because the film's themes, ideas, and questions are so serious and profound, the experience is worth it.

Personally, I did not fully appreciate the film until seeing it a second time. The first viewing is something one survives - the shock and horror of the experience trumps the meaning. But the second time, the full weight of its ideas and meaning are more deeply felt. It's now in my top ten list of the best horror films ever made.

Never has a horror film made violence and suffering so….well, horrible…and to a very specific purpose that I find as praiseworthy as the graphic violence and torture that can be found in many of the best historical church paintings.

Edited by Scott Derrickson

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Well.  Now I'm intruiged to want to see this film.  But at the same time I'm also... scared to.  So I guess this film is already scaring me.

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From a fellow over at IMDB, comparing it to Funny Games

 

"Martyrs is in a whole different league and is everything a film like Funny Games should have been. A definite assault to the gut, extremely graphic and to the point, without ever flinching or resolving to silly tricks to get a point across. It's a film only a director with love for the genre could make (remember that Mr Haneke, after two pointless attempts) and Laugier doesn't let down."

 

 

 

 

From another.  I really like the idea that a film that is as violent as what everybody is saying this one is can lead a person to sadness instead of revulsion.  That right there speaks mountains.  

 

 

 

"i was lucky enough to see this masterpiece at Frightfest this year.

Pascale Laugier's worried about this movie. He was apologising to people who despised it, he was profusely thanking the people who liked it. He is the modern day equivalent of Victor Frankenstein. He knows that he has created a monster and doesn't really know how to deal with it now that it's being released upon the world.

Martyrs truly is a monster. It's a ground breaking, brave, stunning, brutal & moving piece of work that is guaranteed to divide audiences everywhere it gets the chance to play. Even at a genre event like Frightfest the audience reaction ranged from 'loved it' to 'hated it' to people actually going outside of the cinema to be physically sick (really). For me it was the highlight of the festival and i absolutely loved it but I don't believe it's a movie that anybody will truly 'enjoy'.

.......

This movie is inevitably going to be compared to Hostel and other movies in the horribly monickered 'torture-porn' genre and that is a genuine mistake. Martyrs bears more resemblance to movies like Nacho Cerda's Aftermath as there is nothing here that is designed to be titillating. The true horror lies in the the clinical detachment of the antagonists. In the end, despite all the on screen violence (and there are some truly brutal scenes on display here in the movies second act) the prevaling reaction that this movie elicited in me was not one of revulsion but one of true sadness. Martyrs really is a truly brilliant, surprisingly moving film and one that will remain in my mind, jostling for attention with my other thoughts for a very long time to come. Thankyou Pascale Laugier for creating a monster that i love...

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Just watched this again. Barely made it to the end.

 

There was definitely a difference in me watching it this time. The first time I saw Martyrs, I was in the middle of separation and divorce, I was still caught in the throes of addiction and loss, and I was watching many, many movies like this and identifying with the suffering of others. (I stress, not enjoying, but identifying.) And in some way at that time, these were the only films that were speaking to me.

 

I've put that section of my life behind me. I've moved forward. One very small step at a time, and quite often having to focus on the forest, and not the trees. Having to strain out the positive, clench its last drop of juice, let the negative continue to bounce into the dark night, and move my own soul forward.

 

I am a different person these days. I do appreciate good horror. Always have. I stumble over Martyrs because it is so methodical. So diaboliocal. And so much like the stuff of real life --

 

It is stunning to group in with some of the docs I've most recently mentioned around here. The Act of Killing. Dirty Wars. But I still can't find a decent reason for recommending Martyrs. Other than perhaps to say: yes, this is the world. Things like this happen. And it isn't titillating. It's sad.

 

From the Tobias review:

On some level, Martyrs feels like a comment on other films of its kind, because it shuts down any notion that pleasure could be derived from watching it. It feels like the death of extreme horror—or at least takes the subgenre as far as it can conceivably go.

 

This, I can see.

 

This film is like taking Bellucci's rape scene in the middle of Irreversible and creating that horror for ninety senseless minutes.

 

Final thought: I am a hypocrite. Loved the Evil Dead remake, for its tension, editing and gore-done-well. Really liked the Carrie remake, for their respect of the original and the way they made Carrie simply brutal and terrifying in the end.

 

There really is something about Martyrs -- at least in its ideas (not always in its effects) -- that's just a little too real, I think.

Edited by Persona

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Loved the Evil Dead remake, for its tension, editing and gore-done-well. Really liked the Carrie remake, for their respect of the original and the way they made Carrie simply brutal and terrifying in the end.

 

THIS.

 

Neither movie gets enough credit, especially the latter. I'm glad to see you responded to both.

 

Wish I could offer thoughts on Martyrs, but I haven't seen it and am not sure I could take it.

Edited by Christian

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I detested this movie ... here is part of my rant -- the whole thing here 
 

This is a vile, ugly movie that stains the soul of anyone who sees it and especially those who apparently enjoyed it. Seeing it with the Midnight Madness audience that was whooping it up when it did was profoundly and deeply dispiriting. I think MARTYRS, or rather the approving reaction it won, officially ends my interest in Midnight Madness, at least with respect to horror films ... MARTYRS is a movie that very early on shows a character massacring a family of four with a shotgun and when the last “kill” was made (against a victim for whom it was impossible for the killer to have any grievance), the audience applauded wildly at this pornographic climax that they were getting off to themselves ... Of course the massacre that occupies much of the first half of the film takes place on a rainy day, to give the fanboys boner-inducing views of the two central characters, both women, running in their wet T-shirts.

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I detested this movie ... here is part of my rant -- the whole thing here 

 

This is a vile, ugly movie that stains the soul of anyone who sees it and especially those who apparently enjoyed it. Seeing it with the Midnight Madness audience that was whooping it up when it did was profoundly and deeply dispiriting. I think MARTYRS, or rather the approving reaction it won, officially ends my interest in Midnight Madness, at least with respect to horror films ... MARTYRS is a movie that very early on shows a character massacring a family of four with a shotgun and when the last “kill” was made (against a victim for whom it was impossible for the killer to have any grievance), the audience applauded wildly at this pornographic climax that they were getting off to themselves ... Of course the massacre that occupies much of the first half of the film takes place on a rainy day, to give the fanboys boner-inducing views of the two central characters, both women, running in their wet T-shirts.

 

Seems like a review of an immature audience more than a review of the film. Anyone who applauds during Martyrs misunderstands the film entirely.

For a good description of why I love the film, read this:

 

http://montanamancavemassacre.blogspot.com/2011/06/beauty-in-brutality-defense-of-laugiers.html?m=1

 

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Scott, this question opens a big can of worms, I know, but as a lover and maker of horror films, you must know that these types of films are often (usually?) misunderstood or misread by audiences, right? Sadism is an essential part of the viewing pleasure!

 

This question is on my mind again because last week I was debating The Wolf of Wall Street with a friend, and my basic position was that WoWS fails as a satire because Scorsese's exuberant filmmaking is so seductive. Jordan Bellfort is an asshole, and I'm not especially tempted by his lifestyle, but that film is really funny and the lead actress is incredibly sexy. The predominant pleasure of WoWS is voyeuristic participation in images and behaviors that we're supposed to be condemning.

 

I suppose this circles back to Sam Fuller's description of Full Metal Jacket as "another goddamned recruiting film." I rarely watch horror films of the Martyrs variety because I don't like indulging in sadistic pleasures, even when I know, intellectually, that a film is also doing something else--just as I'd argue with Fuller that FMJ is also doing something other than pushing adrenaline and jingoism buttons.

Edited by Darren H

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Scott, this question opens a big can of worms, I know, but as a lover and maker of horror films, you must know that these types of films are often (usually?) misunderstood or misread by audiences, right? Sadism is an essential part of the viewing pleasure!.

I don't believe at all that sadism is essential to viewing pleasure for horror, and that's certainly not the case with Martyrs. A midnight audience hard-wired to have fun with a horror film is going to react to any and all violence the same - but that's just not typical. Anyone who authentically derives pleasure from Martyrs is indeed a sadist - but most horror fans I know feel the same way about it that I do, that it's one of the most unpleasant films ever made. It's not popular for this very reason. It's not torture porn.

I don't defend the SAW franchise, or HOSTEL - but this just isn't that.

As a rule, if the violence of the film is intended to make the audience feel fear and empathy for the victims of violence, then it has worthwhile ambitions. Anytime horror deliberately aims to make audience vicariously enjoy the acts of violence by identifying with the perpetrator, well, that's unlikely to be noble.

I will say this though, if I saw Martyrs in a theater and people cheered, I would leave immediately. Hearing about that is very depressing.

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Thank you for the recommendation, Scott.

 

I'm of the (waaaay unpopular opinion for this forum), that if two critics say "you have to see the film twice to fully appreciate it" AND that it is got incredibly intense, controversial material within, then that gives me complete permission to go to one of those "screenit" or imdb's Parental Details pages, and spoil myself silly on all the carnage that would await me, in boring, non-visceral, ascii text. 

 

Then, if I were to see it for the first time, it would be as if I am seeing it without the brutal exasperation of the first time, and am able to look at the meaning behind it all.

 

It's how I got to see Million Dollar Baby and enjoy it. 

And detractors take note:  "The Sixth Sense" didn't garner any "intense, controversial material within" comments, which made me hold back from being spoiled on that one.

 

ETA:  Victor has got to stop watching movies with a crowd.

Edited by Nick Alexander

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I detested this movie ... here is part of my rant -- the whole thing here 

 

This is a vile, ugly movie that stains the soul of anyone who sees it and especially those who apparently enjoyed it. Seeing it with the Midnight Madness audience that was whooping it up when it did was profoundly and deeply dispiriting. I think MARTYRS, or rather the approving reaction it won, officially ends my interest in Midnight Madness, at least with respect to horror films ... MARTYRS is a movie that very early on shows a character massacring a family of four with a shotgun and when the last “kill” was made (against a victim for whom it was impossible for the killer to have any grievance), the audience applauded wildly at this pornographic climax that they were getting off to themselves ... Of course the massacre that occupies much of the first half of the film takes place on a rainy day, to give the fanboys boner-inducing views of the two central characters, both women, running in their wet T-shirts.

 

Seems like a review of an immature audience more than a review of the film. Anyone who applauds during Martyrs misunderstands the film entirely.

For a good description of why I love the film, read this:

 

http://montanamancavemassacre.blogspot.com/2011/06/beauty-in-brutality-defense-of-laugiers.html?m=1

 

 

I assure you that I would've disliked the film on its merits before taking the audience into consideration ... an audience getting into a film only annoys one if you aren't into it yourself. To put it another way, an audience can amplify a reaction; it cannot create one. The previous year (I think) at Toronto I saw Barbara Kopple's Dixie Chicks documentary with a lynch-mob audience filled with hipsters and bobos and hippies and feminists and "activists" vocally drinking in the liturgy of how Their Plucky Heroes were persecuted by the Bushitleretardespotheocrat Regime. But in that case I could see the film's merits and wrote about the film that way. (I think I joked "the film gets a 6; the experience of watching it gets a 1.")

 

But if MARTYRS isn't a base pander for folk to get off on blood and boobs, please explain the following directorial choices:

 

(1) The pauses after each kill shot in the first "half";

(2) The way one of the killers is straddling her legs, panting on one of the corpses;

(3) The use of rain at night with actresses clad in T-shirts;

 

 

These are all *choices* ... i.e., details not meaningfully dictated by whatever narratives or themes that may (often do) justify violent content.

 

Audiences can get movies (and TV shows and books etc.) wrong, pick up on unintended things, and weigh emphases wrong. But what they do NOT do is respond to stuff that just plain ain't there.

Edited by vjmorton

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I wouldn't blame anyone for hating Martyrs.

As for your three questions, I can only say that holding on the carnage is meant to repel, not to titilate - I'm sure of this because I've recently spoken at length with the director about the film.

The other two things you mention seem inconsequential in the context of the film, and I find that fact you find them significant (and not the theme of transcendence through suffering) quite odd.

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I'm curious Scott.  What are the directors views about the fact that some people find this film so offensive and in this are apparently misunderstanding it.  Is that alright to ask, or for you to share?

 

I mean.  If he made the film knowing full well that it likely would be misunderstood or that many would hate it, then that's kind of brave filmmaking, I'd think.

Edited by Attica

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It really was an act of bravery for him to make it. He was deeply depressed at the time, and was reaching out for something profound in his own suffering. He said he sometimes hates himself for making it, because he knows what an ugly and nightmarish experience it is for the viewer...but in the end he believes (rightly) that nothing but the extreme horror of the film could effectively lead to the important insights, thoughts, and questions that it offers.

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It really was an act of bravery for him to make it. He was deeply depressed at the time, and was reaching out for something profound in his own suffering. He said he sometimes hates himself for making it, because he knows what an ugly and nightmarish experience it is for the viewer...but in the end he believes (rightly) that nothing but the extreme horror of the film could effectively lead to the important insights, thoughts, and questions that it offers.

 

I've been pondering this over and I really like his thinking here.  I like that he cares about the viewer even if he thinks that the experience is necessary.  I like that he found something to take from his depression.  I have friends who suffer from extreme depression and it sure seems to be awfully rough.

 

I've also read about people who have suffered deeply that have said that after they have come out of this suffering that the world then seems more magical and alive than it has before to them.

 

So then.  If one is living vicariously through and emphasizing with the suffering characters in a film like this then it stands to reason that when one comes out of the suffering with them, then the world would become more alive and magical to the viewer.  Thus the viewer could come to some sort of transcendence.

 

Which makes me think of some of Stephen King's points in his book Danse Macrabre, specifically, the idea that good horror isn't really about death but rather about life (which I generally agree with.)  It also brings to mind what Tolkien was getting at with his idea that because of sin and brokeness we can lose a sense of the "magical" wonder of life and the universe, but that good fantasy story can spark our imaginations and work to bring this alive again.  I believe that Tolkien (and Lewis) was influenced by the Celtic Christianity in the British Isles who very much had/have this understanding, seeing the storyteller and the poet as having a priestly function of sorts.  Those influences are throughout their stories in different ways.

 

So the idea of a film with extreme horror leading our minds to important insights throughts and questions makes sense to me and some of this helps me to better understand why there have been horror films that have had a positive impact on myself.

 

 

Still scared of seeing this film through.    ;)

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If one is living vicariously through and emphasizing with the suffering characters in a film like this then it stands to reason that when one comes out of the suffering with them, then the world would become more alive and magical to the viewer.  Thus the viewer could come to some sort of transcendence.

 

 

Well said. That is precisely the experience I've had with Martyrs.

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I saw an interesting note on Daniel Stamm's wikipedia page and thought to share it in this thread -

Laugier has confirmed in an interview that he is currently in the middle of negotiating the rights for Martyrs to be remade in America.[15] It will be directed by Daniel Stamm, director of The Last Exorcism, and written by Mark L. Smith, writer of Vacancy. The film comes from the producers of Twilight. The producer of the film has said he would like Twilight actress Kristen Stewart for the film,[16] though her presence in the film was later denied by Stamm.[17][18]

Stamm has said "[The original film] is very nihilistic. The American approach [that I'm looking at] would go through all that darkness but then give a glimmer of hope. You don't have to shoot yourself when it's over."[17]

In a 2014 interview, Stamm revealed he had left the project after the budget had been reduced, stating, "I think they're now back to making the movie for like $1 million, really low budget, which I think you could almost do, it's just there's this philosophy in Hollywood that you can never go back budget-wise. As a filmmaker you are judged by that. And then there's also this concept I was unaware of called plateauing, where if you're a filmmaker who makes two movies in the same budget bracket, that becomes your thing. You are the guy for the $3 million movie, and then that's all you do. And so my agents wouldn't let me do the $1 million movie, because then that's it for you, you'll supposedly never get that bigger budget". [19]

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I watched this today, partly from Scott's praise, partly from sheer curiosity, and partly because it's streaming on Amazon Prime in the UK. It's one of the most unpleasant film-viewing experiences I can recall having in a long while, and I nearly turned it off at the halfway point. Yet, I'm glad I didn't, as only a few scenes later the film takes a wholly different turn. While the final act is just as grim and gruesome as the first, I do wonder if there's something going on here about the spiritual connection between suffering and transcendence, not only within the film's content (i.e. a story about how suffering might lead to transcendence), but in the film's form and style (i.e. using the unpleasantness of extreme horror to open one's eyes to the awfulness of human suffering, even as a critique on extreme horror itself). It's not a film I could ever recommend, nor one I enjoyed, but I can see its merits and complexity.

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On 1/19/2018 at 10:13 AM, Joel Mayward said:

I watched this today, partly from Scott's praise, partly from sheer curiosity, and partly because it's streaming on Amazon Prime in the UK. It's one of the most unpleasant film-viewing experiences I can recall having in a long while, and I nearly turned it off at the halfway point. Yet, I'm glad I didn't, as only a few scenes later the film takes a wholly different turn. While the final act is just as grim and gruesome as the first, I do wonder if there's something going on here about the spiritual connection between suffering and transcendence, not only within the film's content (i.e. a story about how suffering might lead to transcendence), but in the film's form and style (i.e. using the unpleasantness of extreme horror to open one's eyes to the awfulness of human suffering, even as a critique on extreme horror itself). It's not a film I could ever recommend, nor one I enjoyed, but I can see its merits and complexity.

Fascinating. I should take a look into this film at one point in my life. Currently the most extreme film I've seen is Park Chan-wook's great and violent film Oldboy, which has some of the best fight and sex scenes I've ever seen (David Cronenberg's A History of Violence, which I think's one of the best of the 21st century, also has great fight and sex scenes).

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