I think if it weren’t so obsessed with its own self-indulgent pseudo-spiritualism and didn’t stop to tell four different stories simultaneously, “Martyrs” may have been a decent film. It begins as a solid revenge picture, but then devolves in to an absurd campaign in torture and pain. It’s a grueling sadistically boring horror drama with a narrative so convoluted I stopped caring about what was unfolding after the first half hour. “Martyrs” loves to pretend it’s this transcendent statement about our questioning of the afterlife, but in reality it’s just misogynist torture porn painted as art house dribble that will make you feel dirty.
Lucie is a young girl who managed to escape being tortured by a mysterious couple when she was a child. After being rescued by an orphanage, she tries to live some semblance of a normal life, despite being tormented by the spirit of a lost soul. Years later, she massacres a seemingly normal domestic family in a country house, and with the help of her girlfriend Anna, tries to comprehend what’s occurred. Anna believes Lucie has inflicted her rage on the wrong family, while Lucie tries to appease the spirit that insists on torturing her for her past. From there “Martyrs” just seems to dip in to more violence and even more sadism that never amounts to a purpose.
Laugier’s film slides in to a nonsensical and often ridiculous test of endurance for the audience who will feel like they’re being put through the wringer. Once Anna learns the true secret behind the horrific deeds committed by Lucie, “Martyrs” shockingly gets even worse and so much more complicated to the point where it’s just unintelligible. It’s just an ugly wretched attempt at spiritual cinema, and I was desperate to reach an actual point that could fascinate me. In the final half Laugier just completely gives up any illusion of a narrative and devotes segment after segment to torture and punishment. Even in the final moments involving a character offing themselves in order to continue the mission, I really just could do nothing but yawn and be grateful that it was wise enough to end before it reached the two hour mark.
Pascal Laugier is constantly testing the limits that audiences can endure, wreaking havoc particularly on female characters throughout the duration of the narrative, and never quite lets our protagonists off the hook at any point. The narrative is drenched in blood and suffering without a single likable character to be drawn. When Laugier has finally had enough inflicting suffering on his female characters, “Martyrs” just feels unnecessary and pointless. It’s a hollow film with hopelessly annoying themes that don’t arouse questions so much as eye rolls.