Begotten (1989)

Begotten PosterI’m no stranger to abstract filmmaking. From Jodorowsky to Lynch and many others I have certainly seen my fair share of films that eschew standard narrative conventions. Often times these films are so laden with symbolism and metaphor that the story itself can be incomprehensible upon initial viewing. The best of these have meaning behind each image and in-depth examination can peel back the layers to uncover the profound truths that the artist has hidden within. The worst of these are simply a nonsensical series of images that are nothing more than weird for the sake of weird, occasionally containing meaning that has been so obscured by the filmmaker that it is utterly indecipherable. Begotten is definitely abstract, so the question now is where along this spectrum it falls.

There isn’t much to go on as far as a standard plot, but I’ll do my best to summarize it in broad strokes. The credits alone give you a pretty good idea of the kind of film this is and the entire credited cast is as follows: God Killing Himself (Brian Salzberg), Mother Earth (Donna Dempsey) and Son Of Earth-Flesh On Bone (Stephen Charles Barry). The grainy, high contrast, black and white film starts with God Killing Himself living up to his namesake via a brutal disembowelment with a knife. Mother Earth emerges from under his corpse and after some postmortem masturbating of his erection is able to graphically inseminate herself with his cum. She becomes pregnant and before long Son of Earth is born fully grown and spends most of the remaining runtime being tortured by mysterious people in long, hooded robes.

It’s best to think of Begotten not so much as a movie but as a visual experience. There isn’t any dialogue or a linear plot to follow and the various gruesome scenes are accompanied only by ominous music or sound effects, such as the droning buzz of flies. To really get an understanding of what is going on (and what any of it truly means) would require a great amount of rewatching and dissection, for anyone who would be so inclined to do so. What I was able to deduce is that the piece seems to be a representation of the creation of humanity and our inherently violent, destructive nature with a heavy dose of religious allegory thrown in.Begotten Son3

More important than what it all means is what the viewing experience itself is like and in that regard it’s a bit of a mixed bag. There are some very interesting visuals here, the suicidal god being the most recognizable and iconic image from the film, and the gore and suffering on display is well-crafted and convincing. From the grainy black and white footage, to the atonal music and disturbing imagery, everything about Begotten feels like it was carefully engineered to try and set a record for creating the most uncomfortable and upsetting viewing experience possible. Watching the film start to finish is somewhat of an endurance test of nightmarish imagery and that is what I liked most about it. This isn’t a movie to be passively watched but rather an art piece of unconventional expression to be studiously observed.

Not every art piece has something profound to say however and while the lack of dialogue and conventional plot help to successfully create the immersive, nightmarish atmosphere, it is also the film’s weak point. Absent a compelling narrative you are left with only the visual experience which starts out bold, shocking, and intriguing but soon gives way to long scenes that feel repetitive and dare I say, boring. I enjoyed the moments of harsh, upsetting imagery found occasionally within this film and while the surreal journey is a unique one that’s worth taking, it ultimately felt too meandering to be fulfilling.Writer/director E. Elias Merhige has an interesting and provocative short film here, it’s just unfortunately buried within a feature-length runtime that doesn’t sustain it.

3-stars-red

29 Needles (2019)

29 NeedlesAs anyone who follows me on Twitter knows, it’s my mission to track down and review the most fucked up films ever made. Because of this, my idea of what truly constitutes Extreme Cinema may be a bit …..different than many people’s so I’m always at least a little skeptical when filmmakers contact me out of the blue and claim that their film is shocking and edgy. Still, I went into 29 Needles deliberately knowing nothing about it and keeping an open mind. Within the first few minutes one thing became perfectly clear, this is one film that DEFINITELY belongs in the Extreme Cinema category!

The story follows Francis Bacon (Brooke Berry), a troubled man who uses alcohol and pain to help abate the symptoms of his inner turmoil. He is beginning to lose hope as his self-destructive coping mechanisms are becoming less effective and his strange hallucinations more prevalent. When a mysterious young man named Hans (Jamee Nicholson) offers him an invitation to secret society where there are no sexual limits it may be the cure he’s looking for….or the beginning of a whole new nightmare.

One thing viewers should know going into this is that it’s the very definition of “not for everyone” and if copious amounts of unsimulated gay sex is too much for you to handle then this is probably not going to be your particular brand of vodka. However, for Extreme Cinema fans without such hangups this proves to be an interesting and unique ride into some very dark and depraved territory.

My favorite thing about this film and something that is unequivocally true is that it does NOT hold back. 29 Needles is a great example of raw, unfiltered cinematic expression that gives zero fucks about appealing to a mainstream crowd or worrying about who’s 29 Needles Bathoffended in the process. Rape, mutilation, watersports and bloodplay are all on full display here as well as fetishistic acts that even I had never seen before (I have two words for you, eyeball tube). Writer/director Scott Philip Goergens clearly has a vision and takes a punk rock, no holds barred approach to executing it.

So, clearly the film has balls, ones that it’s not afraid to literally skewer with needles, but there’s still the question of how well it’s made. On that front it’s a little bit of a mixed bag as it does fall pray to some of the common shortcomings of indie films such as a flat, digital image quality and some supporting actors whose performances fall well short of convincing. However Berry more than makes up for this with his fully committed, method performance that is absolutely mesmerizing to watch. There is also some great practical effects work in the form of a giant sentient cock that looks straight out of Cronenberg’s golden era.

Ultimately this film is an endurance test of shock and depravity and one that real fans of genuinely edgy cinema won’t want to miss. An interesting and engaging plunge into darkness that’s completely fucked up, in the best possible way.4-stars-red

 

Madness of Many (2013)

Madness CoverIf you like your torture porn with a hefty helping of pseudo-philosophy, then Madness of Many might just be the film for you. At least, that’s what Danish filmmaker Kasper Juhl is hoping you’re into because his 2013 feature packs a surprising amount of both into its scant 73 minute run-time. Is this an effective combination? Should voice over be used in more than 90% of a film? Who the fuck are all these people being tortured and what exactly is going on here? Read on, for the answers to some of these questions in the review below!

The plot (such as it is) centers around Victoria (Ellen Abrahamson) who we first see walking in the woods in the beginning of the film. We are told through VO that she is 23 and has grown up in the most horrifically abusive home possible. After years of rape and starvation she has recently escaped and now we see her make friends with someone off-screen who brings her back to their home. Things seem to be going well until she is bludgeoned unconscious and spends the next year being held captive and tortured. The bulk of the rest of the film depicts seemingly random other women being tortured who (I think) are meant to represent her inner anguish through depictions of physical torment…..and puking up blood every five minutes.

I’m only pretty sure that’s what’s going on because despite the fact that nearly the entire film contains VO, it seems less concerned with illuminating the details of the plot and more concerned with incessantly repeating its theory that suffering is a transcendent experience that leads to enlightenment. This concept worked in Martyrs several years earlier but that was because it was bolstered up by an excellent plot and a sparing but intense use of violence. The brutality here is certainly the best part but the overuse of it without a solid foundation to stand on makes for diminishing returns. I mean, once you’ve watched someone puke up blood for the fifth time in an hour it’s kind of lost it’s effect.

The fundamental problem here is a real lack of prioritization of the story elements. Sometimes the information is maddeningly sparse, such as how did she get from spending her whole life in tortured squalor to just kind of strolling around in a nice outfit, looking normal and put together? Other times it feels like it’s compulsively berating you with the same information, prattling on about enlightenment and suffering like stoned freshman around a bonfire. This all results in a lack of emotional investment with the events of the film and an attempt at a profound ending that falls flat because it’s not even remotely earned. Madness blind.jpg

This is unfortunate because despite its flaws there are definitely some things that the film does very well. First and foremost, I have to commend the numerous actresses who fully commit to their roles as torture victims and all deliver genuinely great performances. This, coupled with the well crafted gore, makes for some glorious and authentic depictions of violence that are well worth the watch. Additionally, Juhl brings a visual artistry to many of the shots that elevate them from mere set pieces to visually arresting works of macabre beauty.

If only he had spent as much time crafting the story then the end result may have felt more like a provocative art film and less like something made by a film student who took took SFX and intro to philosophy in the same semester.

 

2-5-stars-red

Short Film Review: Aftermath (1994) Duration 30 min

AftermathAhhh corpse fucking, a taboo subject that even the most hardcore of Extreme Cinema films rarely delve into. Sure, directors are willing to mutilate teenagers with chainsaws and machetes all day but once you add in a touch of deviant sexuality it goes to a whole different level for most people. Obviously you’ve got your underground classics like the Nekromantik films or even a bizarre romantic drama like Kissed, but all in all it’s a pretty short list of films that make necrophilia the central focus. Of course, an essential entry to that list is Nacho Cerdá’s ultra twisted mini-masterpiece, Aftermath.

There really isn’t that much to say about the story beyond the fact that it centers around a deviant forensic surgeon (Pep Tosar) who has his way with the corpse of a young woman in one of the more shocking and disturbing sequences ever put on film. The fact that it’s light on story really doesn’t matter much in this case since it’s the incredible visual style that does the heavy lifting in this dialogue-free film. Much like A Serbian Film, the thing that makes this so effectively shocking isn’t just its subject matter, but also that it’s just so goddamn well made.aftermath cameraEvery detail inside the surgeon’s lab is so meticulously created that it gives an incredible level of authenticity to the overall film. This is helped greatly by the fact that it was filmed within a real forensic institute in Barcelona and that Cerdá had the chance to witness an actual autopsy prior to filming.  While the little details are great, the real showstoppers are the corpses themselves, masterfully crafted by special effects studio DDT. Each cadaver has such brilliant attention to detail that they come across as genuine characters right down to the tracks in one man’s arm that were probably the cause of his death.

Speaking of genuine characters, Tosar does more with his incredible eyebrows and menacing stare than many actors are able to accomplish with two hours of dialogue. Added to this is the fact that every shot is expertly crafted and the whole thing is scored to Mozart’s hauntingly beautiful Requiem in D Minor. It’s these small but significant touches that really elevate Aftermath beyond just a shocking video into the visually arresting and provocative art that it is.

5-stars-red

Trauma (2018)

__poster-TRAUMA-V3 (002)Incest! Necrophilia! Rape! Graphic murder! Have I got your attention yet? Because as a fan of Extreme Cinema the Chilean film Trauma certainly got mine. Some movies barely cross the line into Extreme Cinema territory, then there are others that grab the line by the fucking throat as they run past it. Trauma is certainly the latter, with certain scenes even echoing some of the most disturbing content from the legendary shocker A Serbian Film. Yet, at least at this point, this film isn’t talked about with anywhere near the same frequency. Hopefully that will change, because love it or hate it, Trauma is certainly a film that deserves to be watched and discussed.

Beginning in 1978 the film opens with text on the screen letting us know that the following is inspired by true events. It then immediately follows that up by gut-punching the audience with one of the most gruesome and disturbing opening scenes ever committed to film, letting the viewer know right off the bat exactly the kind of ride they are in for. The rest of the film takes place in 2011 and follows four young Chilean women who take a trip to a vacation house in a remote part of the country. From there it doesn’t take long before the events from the opening collide with their lives in an unbelievably brutal way.

When viewing Trauma, it is important to have an understanding of where it’s inspirationTRAUMA_Still_2018-001 comes from to truly appreciate what the film is trying to say. While the exact details of the story and the specific characters may not have actually occurred, the film is steeped in Chile’s modern history and very representative of a significant cultural issue that still impacts life today. In the real world, Chile’s democratically elected government was overthrown in 1973 in a brutal coup that resulted in Augusto Pinochet seizing power as the country’s iron-fisted dictator. During this period the country experienced an unfathomable amount of death and real world horror that left it irrevocably changed. This is important to know because at its core, this film is really about the country’s brutal and traumatic past still rearing it’s head in the modern world, and not simply another violent home invasion thriller.

While viewing Trauma, I found a lot of parallels between it and other examples of Extreme Cinema such as the aforementioned A Serbian Film and the gruesome Mexican horror film Atroz. All three are examples of films that draw inspiration from actual violence and trauma from their country’s past (as well as present) and use very graphic and explicit imagery to convey that collective pain. This is essential because it really gets at the heart of expressing genuine emotion through art. I thoroughly applaud these films (and many others) which are willing to make the audience profoundly uncomfortable in order to give them just a glimpse of the actual suffering brought on by real life atrocities.

TRAUMA_Still_2018-004Another similarity between these films is the fact that they are all very well made, which is also what allows them to be so effectively disturbing. Writer/director Lucio A. Rojas has done an incredible job creating a living, breathing world thanks to gorgeous cinematography, top-notch gore effects, and realistic, believable characters. Speaking of characters, while I do want to make special note of the villainous perfection that Daniel Antivilo brings to his psychopathic character Juan, everyone across the board does an absolutely incredible job.

There’s certainly a lot to appreciate here but my one significant complaint has to do with structure of the film itself. There were quite a few times (especially as the film progressed) when the continuation of the story relied too heavily on coincidence, chance, and poor decision making on the part of the characters. While this did help keep the plot exciting, some minor tweaks to the script could have ironed out these wrinkles and helped events unfold in a more organic, realistic manner. Still, these issues are what keep this from being a perfect film rather than the exceptionally great film that it is and shouldn’t dissuade anyone from seeing this modern classic of Extreme Cinema.

4-5-stars-red

Portraits of Andrea Palmer (2017)

PoAPSome Extreme Cinema films creep up on you slowly, holding back their edgiest material to sucker punch you with later on. Other films announce themselves right from the fucking beginning and, with a sexually explicit scene in the first two minutes, Portraits of Andrea Palmer wastes no time earning its Extreme Cinema cred. That’s not to say that one approach is better than the other however, as a “less is more” approach adds more punch to the shocking scenes you do have.

The film follows the life of the titular Andrea Palmer (Katrina Zova) who eeks out an existence as a cam girl to support her drug habit. After experiencing a particularly enraging online encounter, she begins to branch out as she looks for more ways to make money with her body. This sets her off on a harrowing journey, far darker than she could have ever imagined.

Upon viewing, one thing becomes instantly apparent:PoAP is a film that goes all the way. Every one of the numerous sex scenes is completely unsimulated, some of which venture into territory only seen in deviant porn. I can honestly say that even I have never seen a narrative film that featured both genital clamping and a milk enema. While I’m sure there are many out there who would argue that these scenes are merely gratuitous titillation, they actually serve a much greater artistic purpose. This is a raw, gritty film and the real sex on display further punctuates the grimy realism that the filmmakers were going for.

Zova truly gives her all to this project with a performance that is physically demanding and requires a level of uninhibited commitment that most actors wouldn’t dare to undertake. In a world where the MPAA makes a full time job of neutering art for the sake of the public’s delicate sensibilities, it’s always incredibly refreshing to see a film that is an unfiltered, raw expression of ideas. It’s also worth mentioning that, in addition to all the sexuality on display, the film also features some well done violence with one scene in particular showcasing some excellent practical gore effects.

Now, shocking content is all well and good, but the quality of the story is ultimately what matters. To that end, the narrative itself in PoAP is a little on the sparse side and there was certainly some opportunity for character development and conflict that would have given more weight to the edgy visuals. Speaking of the visuals, although I do enjoy the dark, gritty look of the film, there were a few scenes that pushed that aesthetic a bit too far past moody and into “barely visible” territory.

In the end though, none of these issues prevented me from enjoying the film and I was thoroughly invested in Andrea’s grim, downward spiral. A great example of edgy, indie filmmaking, PoAP captures the rough, dangerous feel of Cinȇma vȇritȇ classics like Kids and Gummo. This one’s definitely worth a watch, provided you can find it.

3-5-stars-red

Audition (1999)

audition-cover-11If you’ve only seen one film by the brilliant Japanese auteur Takashi Miike, then it was probably Audition. Not only is it Miike’s most well known film outside of Japan but it is also his most accessible. That’s not to say of course that it’s something that’s easily digested by the mindless masses, it is still a Miike film after all, and if it didn’t have some incredibly violent, disturbing scenes I wouldn’t be reviewing it here. Although, it’s not the violence alone that makes this film interesting, what really sets it apart is the brutal sucker-punch it gives the audience.

After his wife dies of an illness, Shigeharu Aoyama (Ryo Ishibashi) must raise his son Shigehiko (Tetsu Sawaki) on his own. When Shigehiko becomes a teenager he begins to encourage his father to find a new wife and Shigeharu takes his advice to heart, in a rather unconventional way. By staging sham auditions for a movie that won’t be made, he is able to screen potential mates and quickly falls for one of the beautiful applicants, Asami (Eihi Shiina). But despite her sweet, meek demeanor, Asami is holding a very dark secret that threatens to unravel Shigeharu’s entire life.

Typically, when a film has a significant tonal shift, the end result is a story that feels unbalanced and poorly crafted. However, in this case, Miike uses that very concept to deliberately lull the viewer into a false sense of security before violently pulling the rug out from under them. The entire first half plays out as a well-acted relationship drama with no indication of the horrors that are in store. I can only hope that there are people out there who actually watched this expecting a drama and were scarred for life by what they witnessed in the final thirty minutes.

Audition sittingWhat really makes Audition work is that even with the tonal shift, the two halves of the film never feel like disparate ideas awkwardly stitched together but instead function as one cohesive story that is purposefully and methodically laid out. The dramatic, character-focused beginning fleshes out who these people are and makes the viewer truly invested in their fate. The fact that the violence is intense but used sparingly also gives it a far greater impact when it’s shown.

For the most part, the narrative of this film is quite straightforward and only really veers into surreal territory during a particular montage where a character seems to be aware of details he couldn’t have known without some kind of supernatural ability. It’s possible this may have been a slight oversight in terms of the perspective of the scene but it’s also possible that it was intended to be ambiguous and represent the character’s fears of what the potential truth might be. Either way, the scene plays out incredibly well with some gloriously grotesque imagery that will stick with you long after the credits roll.

As far as Miike films go, this one represents an essential entry into his canon and makes a great stepping stone for viewers into his more unhinged masterpieces such as Ichi the Killer and Visitor Q. It also serves as a cautionary tale that when relationships seem too good to be true, they usually are.

4-stars-red

Murder-Set-Pieces (2004)

msp coverTo anyone who has taken so much as a cursory glance at my reviews it should be abundantly clear that I am an incredibly strong supporter of free speech. I’ve made it my mission to track down and review the darkest and most fucked up films ever made and I revel in witnessing cinema’s most disturbing creations. This is all to say that it’s extremely rare that I come across a film with parts that even I find problematic, but it does happen. A classic example would be the unsimulated animal killing in Cannibal Holocaust whose artistic value is superseded by the real world suffering caused by their creation. It had been a long time since I’d seen Murder Set Pieces, so I was surprised to find a similar moral predicament as I wondered to myself “Wait, is this a fucking pro-Nazi film?” More on that in a minute.

The film itself is very light on actual plot and essentially just follows around an unnamed professional photographer (Sven Garrett) as he brutally murders women in Las Vegas. Despite the fact that he’s racking up a substantial body count, the only person who is even remotely suspicious of this obvious sociopath is his girlfriend’s little sister, who is determined to find out what is really going on. MSP 3

Now, if you are going to have a villainous, evil character, a Nazi or Nazi sympathizer is certainly a good choice and as such have been used effectively in many other films. In the case of MSP though it feels very…..different and not just because the protagonist is openly supportive of Nazis and screams in German while he kills people. By themselves these traits could be passed off as simply being used to enhance the evil nature of the character, but when you also start your film with a strange quote about “the Jews” and use a production company named Third Reich Ventures (!) shit starts to add up.

To be fair, this film was made in a different time, years before a peaceful frog was co-opted into an official symbol of hate speech by armies of trolls seeking to make racism “great” again. If I was to play devil’s advocate I could say that it is possible that writer/director Nick Palumbo was perhaps using the imagery more in service of shock value than promoting an ideology. MSP 5However, this more generous read of the subject matter is a tough sell considering how the entire film feels like little more than a vicarious indulgence of Palumbo’s darkest fantasies.

In scene after scene the strong, good looking protagonist is able to effortlessly pick up beautiful women and viciously fuck and murder them in a seemingly consequence-free environment. In addition to this, this unnamed photographer uses nearly all his non-German dialogue on misogynistic rants or fawning praise for Nazis. This is of course when he isn’t busy working out while Triumph of the Will plays in the background. It’s really unfortunate that these things had to be so pervasive within the film because despite the numerous problematic elements there is actually a lot that MSP does very well.

MSP 6

From a visual standpoint this film is absolutely stunning and Palumbo makes excellent use of his two million dollar budget to create mesmerizing visuals on 35mm film stock. Side note, this film also has the bizarre distinction of allegedly containing the only known 35mm footage of the WTC towers going down on 9/11, for whatever that’s worth. Anyway, horror fans don’t just come for the pretty pictures though, we come for the gore and on that front MSP delivers incredibly well. So well in fact that the film was thrown out of three labs before finally being processed.

Thankfully, it was eventually processed because the director’s cut of this film has some of the most gorgeous and gruesome gore effects ever put to celluloid. Each murder scene is exquisitely crafted to showcase the raw, visceral bloodshed in all it’s glory. MSP 1The chainsaw to the head scene stands out as a particular highlight but whether it’s a brutal throat slitting, bathtub drowning or vicious beating each violent scene is filled with a raw, vicious energy that makes the kills much more realistic and disturbing. Throw in some corpse eating, severed head fucking and a brutal on-screen child murder (!) and what you get is a truly unfiltered example of Extreme Cinema that goes well beyond where conventional horror films dare to venture.

The glorious gore effects were courtesy of Fred Vogel’s Toetag Pictures production studio and Vogel himself even cameos in the film. He is also joined by horror legends Gunnar Hansen and Tony Todd, who’s disgruntled porn store clerk character is a highlight of the film. MSP 2So, in the end there is a lot to like about MSP and if it hadn’t been infested with Nazi propaganda it would be an easy film to recommend to fans of hardcore cinema. Overall I’m left feeling conflicted because as much of a fan as I am of the gorgeous, unhinged violence I just can’t fully endorse a film that seems like it would be a top pick for a neo-Nazi movie night.

2-stars-red

Dreaming Purple Neon (2016)

Dreaming Purple NeonWhen determining how well a film works it’s important to first understand the type of film the director is trying to make and judge accordingly. Dreaming Purple Neon wasn’t released by Troma but given the copious amounts of low budget gore, nudity and general cheesiness, it’s something that could’ve fit right into their catalog. That is to say this is not a film that seeks to astound you with mesmerizing acting or a profound storyline but instead hopes to entertain with over-the-top visuals. This is a perfectly valid position for a film to take and one that is harder to successfully achieve than you’d think. So the real question becomes, does it pull it off?

When Dallas (Jeremy Edwards) threw on his duster and decided to roll back into town to settle some unfinished business, the last thing he expected was to become wrapped up in a crazy scheme involving demons, human sacrifice, an experimental new drug, and a dentist’s office. Now he and his unlikely group of allies may be the only thing standing between a demonic cult and the destruction of the human race.

As I said before, there’s nothing wrong with a film that’s simply over-the-top entertainment, but it’s important that it recognize what it is and commit to it. It’s this self awareness that makes films like Hectic Knife and Father’s Day so successful as they strap the viewer in for their brand of gleeful insanity. DPN does get there, but the first third of the film drags along slowly and painfully until it does. Character development scenes are important, when they work, but in this case neither the writing or acting is up to the challenge of fleshing the characters into empathetic and believable people worth giving a damn about. Writer/director Todd Sheets would have been better served by skipping the melodrama and embracing the drug-fueled demonic mayhem sooner.

Once said mayhem does kick in, the film becomes a lot more fun and really starts to earn it’s Extreme Cinema stripes. The special effects may be low budget but what they lack in quality they make up for in quantity as they assault the viewer with the kind of glorious, explicit carnage you can only see in a non-Hollywood production. Gruesome disembowelments, brutal decapitations and even a graphic crotch-drilling (!) make for a lot of fucked-up fun once it hits it’s stride. In the end this is the kind of over-the-top B-movie that’s best enjoyed with a few friends, and more than a few drinks, by gore hounds who have the patience to make it over the initial hump.

2-5-stars-red

Martyrs (2008)

Martyrs posterOne of the defining films of the New French Extremity movement, Martyrs, is a brutal endurance test that is not even remotely concerned with appealing to mass audiences or casual horror fans. Inspired in part by American Torture Porn films of the time like Hostel and Saw, writer/director Pascal Laugier has also credited the severe depression he was experiencing at the time he wrote this for its incredibly dark and nihilistic tone. While the raw, visceral depictions of suffering on display mean that Martyrs easily earns its Extreme Cinema stripes, the more important question is, of course, how well it actually works as a film.

The movie opens with a young girl, Lucie, who is bloodied and clearly abused, escaping from a building in an industrial area and running screaming down the street. She is subsequently rescued and raised in an orphanage but the bulk of the film takes place fifteen years later. Now, adult Lucie (Mylène Jampanoï) aided by her best friend Anna (Morjana Alaoui) is hell-bent on seeking revenge on those who abused her and believes she has finally found the culprits.

Since one of the best parts of this film is how unconventional and unpredictable the plot is I am going to give an official **Spoiler Warning** here for the remainder of the review. This is definitely a film that is best watched with fresh eyes and if you haven’t taken the time to watch it in the nine years since it’s release you should absolutely stop what you are doing and immediately experience it. As far as Extreme Cinema goes, this one is essential viewing.

Many films depict violence, but what sets Martyrs apart from most is how effectively it depicts suffering. Lucie herself is besieged by a demonic woman, a literal embodiment of her emotional anguish who repeatedly attacks her in viscous, horrifying ways. martyrs2Although represented as a separate entity, the film does eventually make it clear that she is a manifestation of Lucie’s internal pain and Lucie’s desire to be rid of her is the central driving force for her to murder those responsible for her abuse.

Another example of exquisitely represented suffering, comes in the form of the severely abused woman that Anna finds in the secret facility under the house. Seeing Anna trying to help someone whose life has been reduced to a state of severe and prolonged agony is perhaps the most upsetting part of this extremely disturbing film. Even though many films feature kills that are graphic and gory, the fact that Laugier dwells on the aftermath of extended suffering (both physical and emotional) makes the scenes in this film far more effectively disturbing.

It should also be noted that, in and of itself, graphic, brutal violence in a film is not necessarily something that is disturbing to see. When it’s done cheaply and poorly it ends up creating the opposite effect and comes across as laughable and silly. For violent scenes to deliver the proper impact on the viewer they have to be well done and the expert craftsmanship of this film is exactly why it ranks up there with disturbing masterpieces like A Serbian Film and Salo. This is due in large part to the incredible cast, every one of which down to the most minor parts delivers absolutely flawless performances. Laugier clearly understood that, regardless of how talented your leads are, amateur acting from ancillary characters can completely shatter the illusion of reality that has been so painstakingly crafted.

Another major reason that the violent scenes are so effectively disturbing is because Laugier wisely relies on expertly made practical effects rather than CGI. The result is a film that was not only shocking when it was made but still holds up perfectly nearly a decade later, and will for years to come. martyrs 1This is all within the structure of a brilliantly crafted script, which boldly bucks the conventions of a standard narrative, to keep you on your toes as the unpredictable plot develops. It even goes as far as (remember, spoiler alert) shifting protagonists halfway through, a risky move that completely pays off. The script also features one of the best sucker-punches in cinema history when the normal, affluent family is brutally gunned down by Lucie, seemingly out of nowhere. This is an outstanding example of a filmmaker carefully establishing a sense of safety and normalcy for the viewer, only to shatter it in the most jarring way.

As well written as this film is though, there is a glaring issue with the script that absolutely should have been resolved prior to shooting. After Anna meets Lucie at the house where she has just murdered an entire family that she believes was responsible for her torture, the two women don’t leave. I understand how from a plot perspective it was important that they remain in the house, but I fucking wish Laugier had devised a solid, logical reason for them to stay. It just stands to reason that anyone committing a quadruple homicide would try to get the fuck out of Dodge as quickly as possible and not, ya know, hang out, make phone calls…..take naps. It’s a baffling oversight in an otherwise incredible screenplay and really the only significant flaw with the whole production.

martyrs3There is just so much to unpack here, especially when it comes to the secret society; their quest for transcendent knowledge through extreme suffering, the casual way they inflict violence like it’s a routine job, and of course the brilliant end when the matriarch is so rattled by knowledge of what is actually awaiting us in death, that she takes her own life. Suffice to say, this film is a unique, complex and exquisitely crafted piece of highly disturbing art that ranks among the most brilliant horror films ever created.

4-5-stars-red