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How does one even begin to review a film like 2008’s “Martyrs?”

To give away any portion of the plot would be to ruin the main surprises thrusted upon the audiences. To discuss the various meanings of the film would inevitably be setting up expectations in the audience’s heads that no film could ever live up to.

All the same, please do see it. It is quite a film.

Taking its cues from “The Rapture”, “Breaking the Waves”, “Hostel” and other torture porn films, Pascal Laugier’s “Martyrs” uses the trappings of this subgenre to move a step forward. The plot keeps unspooling like a snail’s shell to unleash one more secret we didn’t see coming and when it’s all over, only then do we realize what the entire film was about.

And let me tell you, it is shocking, unapologetic and mystifying. The more one thinks about it afterward, the deeper the whole film gets.

In the last ten years there have been many films wanting to go back to the 70’s era of horror. Little humor, brutal violence, and a commentary on the times.

During the 1980’s, with the advent of slasher films, we were usually given the final girl; someone who we could root for as she triumphed over evil. Think of heroines like Nancy Thompson and Laurie Strode and one can easily make a case for these films to be feminist horror.

However, in the last ten years, many films in the genre have decided to bypass this for a more bleak way of storytelling–killing everyone; so we are left with no hope whatsoever. There is no one to root for and when it’s all over, all we can do is comment on how aggressive and harsh everything was.

Despite “Martyrs” following these trappings, it manages to pull the rug out from under us–so that we can dig deeper. This film may be bleak in its showing of people’s relations to each other, the world and religion–but it is also a film of hope,  of redemption, of friendship, and dare I say it, of love.

I was constantly surprised and horrified by each turn the film made. I can’t say that about many films in the genre today. However, I will testify that you will need a strong stomach for this one. Not so much by what is shown, but how much you may feel in your gut.

When it’s over though, just take a moment to think about it. Reflect on what “Martyrs” is saying and I think you’ll realize, like me, that this is an extraordinary horror film.

One that uses both brains and passion to convey a sense of humanity rarely seen outside the work of Ingmar Bergman. Its message may be surrounded in a film of extreme violence, but so was “The Passion of the Christ.”

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