The problem with horror movies is that they have become repetitive. They follow well-trodden paths of zombie, vampire and slasher predecessors resulting in the mundanely titled sub-slasher and sub-zombie films. And that’s if you’re lucky. If you’re unlucky it’s actually a film you’ve seen before but rebranded and acted in another language (re-imagined if you’re being kind). One thing that can be said of Martyrs is that it is something a bit different.

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Starting out with a child escaping from a warehouse where she was tortured, the movie launches us into a revenge tale that takes place twenty years later when Lucie, the abused child, and her friend Anna – the only person who understands her – go in search for the tormentors of the past. It is gory and disturbing, but at this point there is not too much new. The psychotic lust for revenge exhibited by Lucie is powerful and violent, but no different to many films that have come before.

The edge comes in two areas. Firstly the relationship between the two girls gives a much needed extra dimension. Their love explores its most extreme limits and questions our assumptions about the emotion. But more surprising than any high-fallutin’ notions of love and dedication is the second half of the film which is the cinematic equivalent of a punch in the gut.

From being a gory revenge thriller Martyrs suddenly changes into something utterly different. Some would call it a perverse kind of torture porn movie, others might call it aggressive moralising, and I have even read people write that it is boring and pointless. In my view this level of dissent is the mark of a horror film that’s actually worth a damn. Certainly far more than a lot of lame efforts like The Unborn that inspire little more than a shrug of the shoulders and a ‘yeah it was OK’ for most people.

Beyond the interest that lies in the content, there is plenty more to be found in Martyrs. The special effects are outstanding. The fall somewhere in between the unnecessary excesses of Frontier(s) and a sort of clinical excellence,a medical attention to detail that is a quality rarely shown in the genre. What’s more the lead actresses put in performances that are relentlessly moving. Their commitment to the roles is evident in every scene and it makes the film so much more engaging than movies where you can tell the director has said is “RUN!”… “Oh, and scream a bit…”.

The long and short of it is that this is a film that’s a little bit different. And that’s worth a lot more than many other hyperboles applied to movies at the moment.

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This article was first posted on March 22, 2009