Torture porn is the latest hypocritical slur that has been thrown at the horror movie. Those responsible for using the term most readily seem to be the very people who work for multinational media corporations that whilst they decry fictional violence are heavily invested in presenting the real life carnage and systematic abuse of human rights as the necessary evil of war.
Like the despicable men who decapitate innocents live on the web, the media of 24 hour news knows that what really gets a response out of a jaded and over-saturated audience is sensational violence. News needs action and events to get people to read and to watch, and the modern reader/viewer will ignore all but the most repulsive and transgressive savagery on offer. Similarly the same people who bring you Jade Goody's last days decry the long drawn out deaths of vulnerables in the fictional world whilst they recast the story of the cheerful commoner or vile racist as it suits their particular angle. At this point I would like to mention that the remake of Martyrs is being planned by Fox, a division of Rupert Murdoch's News International.
It will be presented as a sick, misogynist revenge movie. A movie that makes hay with abuse, self harm and mutilation, and journalists will ask what kind of man exploits the pain of the vulnerable to make money and sate foul appetites? The same people will continue to write emotive pieces about suicide bombers when there is some public interest, and will continue to write nothing about the oil revenues and the reconstruction contracts of western firms. These people will ignore the implied conclusion of audience complicity with the sadistic black suited forces which destroy Lucie and Anna. They won't even think about film's core theme, the human desire to understand death through the suffering of others, and they won't, for a second, consider that they make their living from this very attribute.
Forgetting what others will try to say, I simply adored the way that Martyrs unravelled. Watching it, I found myself thinking it like the most elaborate booby-trap of a film that I have ever experienced. I kept expecting it to become like other movies I have seen, and found myself constantly reminded of images that have burned their way into my subconscious. The opening of the child Lucie running, part limping, towards the camera and away from her hell reminded me of the famous picture of the Vietnamese child escaping a napalm attack that had already taken her clothes and some of her skin. The dark figure above Lucie's bed in the nursing home put me in mind of my own kid terrors. Lucie's blasting apart of the bourgeois family caused me to think of Bonnaire and Huppert in La Ceremonie.
I got lost in Martyrs because there was no way out. The brutality would just not make sense. I wanted allegory, justification or an obvious moral, but I was left with my own self and a truly unavoidable sense of what I'd been witness to. It may work for other films to repeat the famous slogan over and over again, but in the end Martyrs is not only a film. It's the torture, abuse, pain and misery we know that lives around us but would prefer to rationalise. It's the terror that we know exists from the perspective of those we are only too happy to observe being destroyed by it whilst we are safe, oblivious, or worse simply enjoying the show.
Martyrs is the best of the recent crop of French horror films, it is directed with an unflinching commitment to realism and lacks the choppy editing and humour filled tension releases of modern horror. The tone of the acting is subtle and un-theatrical and the sheer level of thought given to the underworld of torture is disturbing in its completeness. It will remind you of all that you have seen in the news and then it will disturb the hell out of you with the final explanation for the terror it has shown you. It combines art house sensibilities with the unrelenting pursuit of something you won't want to be shown, an effect that I would compare with the best of Lucio Fulci's aggression tempered by a far more committed and enlightened intellect.