9. Martyrs (2008)
Martyrs is a beautiful film. It also makes a persuasive case for putting it away and never watching it again. Martyrs might be the most famous example of New French Extremity - a term often used in the same breath as torture porn. It describes the wave of films made by French filmmakers in the last 30 years or so that present just what its name describes: extreme material. These films collectively seem to transgress every taboo, often presenting its viewer with detailed depictions of savagery and wow does Martyrs do this in style.
The film is relentless, parading violence and torture in front of the viewer. It starts with a woman attempting to get vengeance on a well-to-do family she believes tortured her as a child and just escalates continually from there. The camera lingers over lacerations and flayings and screws bolted to skulls and absolutely relentless beatings - there are few films that make punches feel as bone-crunching and all-around brutal as this film does. It’s remarkably unpleasant, but necessarily so. The violence becomes the source and expression of trauma in the film and we are made to feel the horror of that violence and all it represents in excruciating detail.
Martyrs cuts, drills, and hammers home its themes of class-based oppression, the stubborn psychological persistence of violent acts, and, perhaps, most shocking of all, love. In order to experience these poignant themes fully, we kind of have to be beaten down with the lead characters - to feel them at their lowest to discover the worst and best within them and us.
It’s the sort of film you want to recommend to friends, but feel horrible for doing so.