Drama, feature, Horror, Movie Reviews, We Recommend

Martyrs – An existential anxiety inducing masterpiece


French Canadian horror movie Martyrs begins by following the journey of Lucy (Mylene Jampanoi), a young girl who miraculously made a grand escape from years of torture. 15 years later we see Lucy on a quest for revenge along with her also troubled childhood friend Anna. Face to face with her traumatic past Lucy descends into madness, haunted by the ghost or memory of a women she failed to free while escaping her oppressors. 

Martyrs are exceptional people. They survive pain, they survive total deprivation. They bear all the sins of the earth. They give themselves up. They transcend themselves… they are transfigured. 

That’s as much of a plot summary you’ll get. Let’s just say that 20 minutes into the movie you’ll wonder what in the world you just saw, and what the next 123 minutes can possibly entail. 

Torture Porn or Masterpiece? 

Now stop reading, go see the movie and come back! While there are no spoilers I truly think that Martyrs is best experienced without any presumptions.

This low-budget French-Canadian production took people by storm, causing controversy all around the world as people started questioning if this was just another splatter film with focus on helpless victims and unnecessary gory violence, or if there was in fact something deeper to it? My answer holds no doubt, this movie explores humanity, our obsessive search for answers and our amazing capability of enduring pain.

We suffer alongside our protagonist, seeing her humanity come to life and falling apart. We fall into despair and as we loose hope we also transcend with her. Martyrs is not a movie about unnecessary gore and violence, it dives deep into the human psyche exploring many philosophical layers of what drives us, destroys us and ultimately transcends us. 

A director on the edge of madness 

How does movie like this even come about? Director Pascal Laugier himself admitted to writing the screenplay in a state of despair and clinical depression, and if this movie reflects how he felt he should have a standing ovation for getting through it. As the movie delves into the darkest corners of the human psyche we get a glimpse of Laugier’s cynical view of the world. In an exclusive interview with ShockTillYouDrop he states:

If I tell you more about the title, I’ll reveal too much of the inner concept of the film. It would spoil it. Metaphorically, I would say that the film is a way for me to speak about the times we are living in right now. I have the feeling, like a sad intuition, that our occidental urban societies are filled with despair and brutality. Like a world close to its own end, a world that is going to be replaced by something else. The cynicism of our system has killed everything, people are more isolated and lonely than ever. I don’t think it can last, even if I’ll be dead by the day things really change to something better. – Pascal Laugier

Behind the main characters

Mylène Jampanoï (Lucy) and Morjana Alaoui (Anna) were both captivated by the script before deciding to partake in the movie, not because of the violence but rather the emotional journey the story brought them on. They probably couldn’t imagine the stress that was in store for them working with a volatile director on an extreme horror movie. 

Screams, tears, and more screams took up their days as the director demanded intense raw emotion from his actors, resulting in sore throats, anxiety and exhaustion. Alaoui even broke 3 bones in a scene that caused the production to stop for one month. Blood, sweat and tears literally went into the making of this movie. Perhaps it was the suffering on set that made Alaoui (who had only ever done one movie previously) capable of expressing such raw emotions. 

Would they work with Laugier again? Never – both actors agree, describing Laugier as a man with a soft side and a violent side. When asked in an interview with “indieLondon” what the hardest part of shooting Martyrs was, Alaoui replied:

For me, the whole shoot was very hard in terms of emotions – crying all the time and screaming. I didn’t have a lot of experience in front of the camera, so for me that was terrifying. And the lesson I learned as an actress was to not be terrified and to trust the team. – Morjana Alaoui


It often takes a madman to make something great, and this movie is not an exception with Laugier as the creator of this disturbing horror movie. It seems to be a movie you either hate or love, but we sure love it. If you are prepared to question your own being and feel existential anxiety followed by night terrors for a couple weeks, then watch Martyrs (2008)! 

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I've always had a deep love and fascination for movies, being an especially strong advocate for the weird, foreign, underrated, under-budgeted and unfairly NC17 rated films of our world. Cinesister is the embodiment of this passion (which some might call an obsession).

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