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Martyrs

Year: 2008
Production Co: Canal Horizons
Director: Pascal Laugier
Writer: Pascal Laugier
Cast: Morjana Alaoui, Mylené Jampanoi

If you can get all the way through this exploitative, violent and offensive film, you'll see there's a point, but the experience of getting there is like fishing through your own faeces for a diamond you've accidentally swallowed.

The question is whether to reveal the climax and assure you there's an artistic point, no matter how much depravity or cruelty you have to get through to get there.

When a young girl arrives at an orphanage following years of abuse, only one other girl can get through to her and the pair become friends. We see in a few flashbacks what's happened to her, spending her life locked in a dank room, chained to a chair, beaten and occasionally fed.

So later you can understand why the film opens the way it does, depicting a happy family bickering and having breakfast one Sunday morning. There's a knock at the door, the father casually goes to answer it, and a shotgun blast sends him flying across the room – the first shocking part of a sequence of grotesque bloodshed. We learn the perpetrator is the young girl who spent so many years locked up, and she believes the parents of the family were responsible.

Meanwhile, she's called her friend to say she's found the people she's been looking for most of her life, and her friend is racing to the house (much too late, as it happens) before anything bad happens.

Added to the horror that's already gone on, some sort of demonic imp-thing is stalking the terrified girl throughout the house as she goes about cleaning up the bodies. Eventually the creature seems to drive her mad and she slits her own throat.

While her devastated friend looks around the house trying to make sense of things, the plot turns when she finds a hidden entrance behind a cupboard that leads to a subterranean torture chamber, with a victim that's apparently been there years still locked up.

She helps the wretched woman as much as she can but before she can get her out or try to get help, a 'cleaning' crew arrives. They take her hostage and a statueseque elderly lady spins the tale that led to her friend's incarceration when she was young, one she herself will now face.

And if you thought you'd seen enough after a metal plate stapled to a woman's head, a family of four blown away by a double barreled shotgun and a young girl taking a Stanley knife to herself, brace yourself – you ain't seen nothin' yet.

In a series of short, quiet, episodic sequences, we see the girl endure the full 'treatment' the strange group (who appear to be scientists or researchers) have been subjecting young women to in order to fulfill their aims.

She's chained to a chair, under which is a bucket that serves as her toilet, force fed green glop, is regularly unchained and bashed senseless for no apparent reason, and gradually starts to lose all will to live (the key to the plot, if you've lasted this long).

I can't say much more, but the old lady is searching for something, and it just so happens that locking girls up and torturing them mercilessly will lead her to what she seeks.

Cold, maddening, sick and definitely not for the faint hearted. Was it worth it? Was it art? Should the film have been made or burned? Maybe it was a subtext for everything from Nazism to genetic engineering, but it would be a very long time before I'd sit through it again.

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