During the 00s, watching a horror movie at your local multiplex was (to paraphrase Julian Rathbone) like wading through a stew with not much meat and occasional pieces of gristle. You kept the faith, soldiering on through movies like Valentine and Halloween: Resurrection, and what was your reward? A remake of Friday The 13th. Thanks, Michael Bay. Which is not to say the decade was a complete washout at the box office: no world containing The Others, Eden Lake and Trick R Treat is worthy of anybodys despair. Its just a shame that audiences seemed to prefer franchise movies. Then as now, you were better off ignoring the multiplex and focusing your attention on the festival circuit, which had it all: depraved foreign oddities, independently-made gorefests and movies so disturbing that youd never see them playing against a PG-13 reboot of The Stepfather. These were the kinds of films youd read about in Fangoria and wait for on DVD, knowing that they would arrive with zero fanfare or, worse, be remade by Dimension Films. They were films whose disregard for narrative conventions and mass appeal were enough to give a major Hollywood studio cold feet. Films like the following, in fact.
There are too many story flaws and logic loopholes for Martyrs to be a masterpiece, but the first 20 minutes certainly grab your attention. When a seemingly innocent family (including their children) are murdered in cold blood, the killer calls a friend and explains that they were the people who kidnapped and tortured her 15 years earlier. The less you know about what happens next the better because this is a movie you have to experience for yourself, preferably with a breathless, visibly shaken crowd. You can say that it blows its credibility early on, relies too heavily on repetitive scenes of torture and that the final explanation for the crimes is senseless and laughable, but it never shies away from its exploration of the depths of human depravity, and therein lies its power. If it copped out with a safe ending, Martyrs would be easy to dismiss (and send up), but it has a single-minded desire to go there, and whether or not you want to follow, or think the journey was worth taking, you have to admire its resolve, if nothing else.