140 words: Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)

OldmanDrac

Abraham Stoker’s 1897 gothic novel, Dracula, has been adapted for screen more times than I can count while at work. A story of blood-sucking Transylvanians and naive Victorian Londoners, the book packs a subtext of repressed sexuality, yet delivers that with mindless parasitic violence and uncanny death. Coppola’s Dracula, while being a movie that is steeped in atmosphere and Gothic imagery, is far too self-aware; each scene dripping with filmic techniques (frames within frames; film layered dissolves) to take seriously as a Dracula film. Gary Oldman as the titular character hams his way through each scene, and for some reason, rather than being a blood-lusting, mindless monster, is a little bit too concerned with his broken heart. Hopkins and Ryder were just passable, however Keanu Reeves’ English accent was piss-poor. It has to be said….Universal did this story better in 1931.

 

Advertisements

The Sacrament

aj

When a Vice documentary crew discover that one of their own’s sister has fled the US, they embark on a journey to a remote jungle in an undisclosed location to find her. Once they are on the ground in “Eden Parish”, their initial warm reception soon fades away, revealing something entirely more sinister.

In the past I have not hidden my love of Ti West’s style and directorial ability. The way he manipulates his audience with camerawork and sound is second to none in the horror genre, and I would definitely class him in the school of “soon to be auteurs”. That is why, when I discovered he was directing a found footage movie, I was slightly shocked.

The Sacrament, on paper, is certainly West’s most conventional movie. There is no vintage 80s aesthetic (The House of the Devil); there aren’t any ghosts (The Innkeepers) and we actually get to see some plot, unlike his short in The ABCs of Death. Instead of the lingering self-awareness he has shown in the past, we are treated to the traditional structure and pacing one would expect of a found footage movie. Maybe in the hands of another director that description could be used to show the film in a negative light, however West’s direction brings to The Sacrament a touch of class rarely shown in found footage movies. Not only are the performances of A.J. Bowen and Gene Jones absolutely stellar, but the story is entirely believable. Other commentators have pointed out the undeniable similarities between the infamous Jonestown Massacre and The Sacrament, which, upon researching, seem to be more than poignant, however these parallels should take nothing away from how this movie is constructed.

From the outset you can feel a creeping dread hanging over the film, even when things appear to be going well for our protagonists. The silence seems deafening at points, especially as the film beginnings to ramp up towards the final act. The way West marries his use of silence with his camera, to dictate pacing in scenes, is extremely compelling; we are treated to static mid shots cut with frantic steadicam chase scenes that all feel very organic. One particular scene in the final act is framed beautifully despite its shocking content. We also get treated to “film school shots” but they never feel pretentious within the context of the film; instead it just appears that West knows exactly how to create mood with form.

Another aspect of the movie that is very politically relevant at the time that this review has been written, particularly in Britain, is the topic of religious fundamentalism and extremism. Both of these terms denote acts of brainwashing the vulnerable, which is a theme that runs thick in this film; long, compelling speeches from the mouth of “the Father” seem to have everyone hanging on his every word, which, in the climactic scenes, proves horrifying and chilling (I really cannot do justice to how brutal, yet real, the end of The Sacrament is).

Beyond what has been discussed, I think the similarities The Sacrament has to Jonestown will either put people off or drive them to learn more. I knew of the event by name but had no idea the history of Jim Jones, and I do feel West has made a film that will prove a gateway into further reading for a lot of people. As for West, I am in no doubt that this director will go on to make a serious name for himself, not only in the horror genre, but in film as a whole.

 

The Frighteners, Pet Sematary, Scream 3 (Ernie’s Horror Compendium #1)

Compendium1

The Frighteners

frighteners

…is the film that put Peter Jackson on the map, but not my favourite Peter Jackson horror (stand up and be counted, Brain Dead). Before Parkinson’s Disease really fucked over MJFox, he starred as Frank Bannister, a psychic con artist that finds himself in the centre of a serial killer’s posthumous killing spree. It’s rare for a horror comedy to be both horrific and comedic, and while some of the humour comes from mild stereotyping, the mid-nineties CGI had my nostalgia boner popping, and watching this was a fantastic way to spend an hour and a half. Great stuff!

Pet Sematary

Despite having one of the best New York-based punk rock theme tunes, Pet Sematary also possesses an uncanny narrative and one of the most gut-wrenching scenes of loss in horror history. There are numerous scenes in this adapted Stephen King novel that are very creepy, and while I wouldn’t call it ‘scary’, it goes beyond your average treatment of horror movie families; I would hate to be the dad in this, put it that way. Some of the practical effects hold up to this day, and Pet Sematary is definitely one to add to your list if you are a fan of classic horror.

Scream 3

Sidney

What’s your favourite scary movie? Because I would say Scream is up there in at least my top 10. Unfortunately, Scream 3 doesn’t come close to the brilliance of the original. That’s not a detraction from the film, as it is still a lot of fun, but there comes a point when your self-referentiality has gone full circle at least twice and it gets very contrived. I felt this was a lot more action-based, and the kills were somewhat half-arsed, especially compared to the first in the franchise, but I still enjoyed the 3rd installment as a genre movie. I will get to Scream 4 sometime in the near future!

Resolution

RES

When Michael (Peter Cilella) decides to intervene to save his friend, Chris (Vinny Curran), from the throes of methamphetamine addiction, he chains him to a pipe in a cabin to induce withdrawal. However, as the days pass, the pair begin to question their collective sanity after some uncanny events.

Resolution might be the most thought-provoking horror movie I have seen in a very long time. Many commenters point towards films such as The Shining or OldBoy when discussing ‘thinkies’, but I feel that Resolution more than deserves its place among these classics. Nevertheless, my eulogising of this independent horror film should come with a warning; Resolution is not for everyone. In fact, I’d argue the paths which the film take might put this in a micro-category of its own.

Artfully shot, fantastically acted, and completely void of music, this creepy meta-tale of friendship, loyalty and absolution will be hard to digest for some. Unconventional is a word I will use to describe the final act of the movie, and when the credits appeared, my initial thoughts were ‘is that it?’. However, I have been thinking about this movie since Wednesday, and I would group this with Primer, insofar as I am still trying to piece together the mystery and story.

Throughout the movie there is a thick, heavy sense of dread, which intensifies as we hit the third act, yet the ‘monster’ is not ever truly established or revealed. Glitches on screen are used to alienate the audience, which is postmodern in style; the director has knowingly employed clichéd genre tropes to a stunningly original effect.

[Spoilers paragraph]

Over the course of the movie, the pair begin to see into the future via a series of video clips and audio recordings, at each time managing to avoid their impending murder. Throughout this story, Chris is adamant he will not go into rehab when they get out of the situation; the character arc is satisfyingly rich and brilliantly acted by Curran.  When the final conflict occurs, he decides that he needs to turn his life around and check into rehab. As this happens, the glitches we have been seeing over the whole movie flash and a shadow appears over the characters. They look directly into the camera and state something along the lines of ‘…have we done it wrong? Should we do it differently?’. I believe that this line turns the audience into the monster, and that the director is making a statement about horror movies and our relationship with the archetypal characters with whom we are all so familiar. At each step, Chris and Michael make decisions based on logic, while at the same time learning about themselves and each other. It’s possible to forget you are watching a ‘horror’ movie at points, yet the feeling of dread undercuts moments of humour and drama, which keeps reminding us of the horror genre and it plays on our expectations; by addressing us directly I believe it’s an admission that we were expecting them to die due to the nature of the genre. It’s a play on the ‘give the audience what they want’ type of thinking in movies.

[Spoilers over]

Resolution was a difficult beast to dissect and I feel I have only scratched the surface of this postmodern, meta-horror. It was funny, tense, wonderfully shot and excellently scripted (despite an overkill amount of the work ‘fucking’). I don’t want to come across as a hipster for liking this movie, because it honestly is not for everyone, but if you watch it, you’ll definitely have something to think about for a long while.

Devil’s Pass [The Dyatlov Pass Incident]

face

When a group of documentary filmmakers set off to the Ural Mountains in Russia to investigate a 50 year-old mystery, surviving in the freezing landscape becomes less and less likely, as they discover something sinister lurking beneath the snow.

Renny Harlin, director of Die Hard 2, returns with Devil’s Pass, a found footage horror that feels slightly out of place, and late to the party, among recent releases; The Tunnel and Lake Mungo spring to mindBoth of these horror films were different, exciting and contained great elements of horror, resulting in a rewarding cinematic experience. Right from the outset of the film you can see what Devil’s Pass was going for in its tone. Unfortunately, this promise falls apart quite quickly.

Harlin has constructed a visually compelling piece, capturing the beautiful snowy vistas as well as tying in some good post-production effects, however it was confused storytelling that caused this movie to fall flat. There are a number of changes in tone, at the beginning of each act, which are quite jarring. The beginning of the movie was presented in a similar way to the aforementioned The Tunnel, which was a clever hook. Nevertheless, this ended, and the found footage in the second act came across as too polished and glossy, unlike the news reports prior. We also visit some themes in the third act that question the very use of found footage as a storytelling device, and made me wonder why this wasn’t a conventional fiction film, rather than ‘found footage non-fiction’.

The acting is decent, and there are some tense moments of natural peril, but again, once the third act hits and the antagonists are revealed, I couldn’t help but laugh at its impotence as a horror. And then there is the final, almost confusing aspect of the movie: it has almost nothing to do with the Dyatlov Pass incident upon which the film is ‘based’. The beginning of the movie has the standard ‘based on a true story’ spiel, and then throughout we are drip-fed information about the real story, but the Wikipedia page is actually more interesting than anything seen in Devil’s Pass; the final mystery twist feels about as tepid as monsoon rainwater and it’s all just very silly, for want of a better word.

Unfortunately, while being competently made, Devil’s Pass has too many huge storytelling flaws that result in the movie being only slightly better than your average 5/10 found footage horror.

Maniac

MANIAC

Frank, troubled mannequin shop owner, struggles to repress his sexually-motivated, murderous urges as he wanders the streets of New York City. When he meets a beautiful female photographer, what begins as a friendship, quickly escalates into something dangerous and sinister, and his urges become increasingly more uncontrollable.

Maniac, a remake of the 1980s William Lustig slasher of the same name, smashed me in the face right from the opening moments, even before the big red letters above this review proclaim the film’s name. In recent violent horror movies, I haven’t been that abjectly affected by the scenes of gore; Evil Dead and The Loved Ones, while being enjoyably graphic, both teetered on the edge of over the top. Maniac, on the other hand, contains multiple scenes of heightened violence, gore and torture, all of which are bowel-churningly effective. There were points during this horror film where I felt physically sick, which may have been the first time that’s ever happened, and it is almost certainly due to the point-of-view (POV) angle through which we are subjected to the scenes of violence.

Not only is this cinematographic decision executed fantastically – we often have shots of Elijah Wood looking at himself in mirrors seamlessly stitched together with POV mid shots – but this stylistic choice helps enhance the thematics of the movie. Some critics have understandably flagged the film as being gratuitously violent, misogynistic and a sign of the humanity we are evidently all losing thanks to films like this one. The main reason for this backlash is that the POV shot puts us as the murderous voyeur; we see everything, we see the blood evacuating freshly cut human flesh, we hear the panicked screams of helpless women, and in any other straight to VOD schlock it would be designed to titillate our inner id. However, in Maniac, Woods, who is fantastic, plays his character as a severely troubled soul. At points we see the ghosts of his childhood as visions of the night, and it’s becomes as sad as it is brutal. Ultimately we never fully sympathise with the killer, as the ending veers into the darkness at a rate of knots and we are complicit in some horrific killings, but it does make you question the past lives of people that feel compelled to commit horrific acts.

Maniac is not without its flaws. The female lead’s audio has clearly been ADRed, which becomes quite annoying at points; the sound recordist needs to learn how to mix down the audio better. There is also a killing near the beginning where Frank’s hands are bloody and bruised, yet he still manages to pick up a woman in a bar. I’ve met some freaky ladies in my time, but I am sure even they would have the wherewithal to turn down the advances of someone with literal blood on their hands.

Overall, I found Maniac to be one of the most effective serial killer movies I have seen in a very long time. It’s brutal, a hard watch, and has enough moments of hard-hitting violence to turn the most ardent horror fan’s stomach.

 

Off-topic: We are fully back now. San Francisco was a fantastic experience, and Lauren had a great post-wedding summer, but it’s autumn now, and we actually have some news for y’all that we will announce this weekend!

The Conjuring

CONJURE

Insidious, I think it’s fair to say, was a movie that chilled a fair number of people out there. Unfortunately, it was on my ‘Meh’ list of last year. It held me for an hour, and, although it didn’t completely shit the bed, I felt the ending was weaker than a Smirnoff Ice. Regardless, being a fan of the first Saw movie, and liking James Wan’s general style and the way he tells a story, I jumped at the opportunity to see The Conjuring.

Based on true events: When a young family move into an old farmhouse, their lives get turned upside down by forces only a married couple of paranormal investigators can seem to understand. As things get more intense, the relationships between the family, their gifted helpers and the local police get tested to breaking point.

And that, in a nutshell, is the story of most ghost/paranormal movies you’ve seen in the last 43 years.

However, and that’s a big however, The Conjuring may be the tipping point for commercial horror…in a hugely positive way. In my opinion, this movie was almost a complete success! It was genuinely scary and unsettling, the likes of which I haven’t felt since I was a young kid, and trust me, I have been searching. There were points in this movie during which my skin tingled with terrified euphoria, and it felt so fucking great.  The scares were lingering and not persistent, they were all varying degrees of terror, and although there were few moments of original horror, what was on show was absolutely engaging and never felt pointless. And the trailer didn’t reveal some of the best moments, which was refreshing!

Wan has constructed a movie that pays subtle homage to 70s cinema in general, especially when you look at the camerawork. Within the first 20 minutes we have a rapid zoom from the foreground, across the garden and onto one of the daughters who is playing at the foot of a tree about 100 metres (109 yards) away. This trend of self-aware zooms and exciting pans really enhanced what was on screen, and along with the costumes and set design, the movie was a thoroughly satisfying visual treat.

Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson play the Warrens, a real-life husband and wife paranormal investigation team. While the subject matter lends itself to scrutiny, their performances were completely believable and I never questioned their relationship. The tour de force on show was complemented by the rest of the cast, with standout performances from the dead pan Ron Livingston and his family, especially one of the youngest daughters (Joey King). Moments of light humour peppered the runtime, which actually enhanced some the scares, and I feel James Wan employs comedy as a tool to break down audience suspension of disbelief enough to get people emotionally invested in the story.

It was not without its flaws, however, as was evident when the ending ramped up. What I felt could have been a fantastically dark ending was hampered by the ‘true story’ elements, and it did almost get into cloying Disney territory. The big strings and bright sunshine felt like I was watching the end of Who Framed Rodger Rabbit, regardless of the Inception-esque final shot.

All-in-all, The Conjuring was a shining example of how you make a mainstream horror movie without the need for torture porn or slasher villains. While elements were directly referencing the demonic movies of the 70s, it was paced well enough, looked beautiful enough and was directed adeptly enough for it to hold the attention of a mainstream audience. It won’t be considered a classic, but it’s absolutely worth your admission money.

The ABCs of Death

ABS1

So, The ABCs of Death, what an ambitious project this proved to be. It wasn’t an out-and-out success per sé, however there were some segments in this 26 short film anthology that showed there are some exciting directors out there in the horror genre; talents that include Adam Wingard, Ben Wheatley and the director of A Serbian Film. I won’t go into specifics or spoilers for each segment, but what I will do is give you a few short words that will highlight how I felt about the individual shorts.

A – Smart, excellent payoff.

B – ‘Nightmare’. Bait and switch.

C – Unoriginal. Student film.

D – Stunning. The best-looking segment by far.

E – Lame CGI and decades old story.

F – Fuck you, director, you hack.

G – God-awful.

H – Doesn’t fit in this anthology.

I – Statement about something.

J – Better than the other Japanese ones. That’s not hard though.

K – Killer shit. Just, no…

L – Sick, sick bastards.

M – Not applicable. There is literally nothing to see here. FAIL.

N – Funny bird.

O – Avant garde, Giallo-inspired. Breasts.

P – Pussy. Welp.

Q – Self aware.

R – WTF in a really gory, good way.

S – Robert Rodriguez? Twist.

T – Brilliant claymation.

U – Gritted teeth.

V – Balls-out insanity. And dollars, dollars everywhere.

W – Acid trip.

X – This is what I came to see (through my fingers).

Y – Even Rocky had a montage.

Z – Enough with the dicks and boobs for Christ sake.

There is no narrative that links these movies together so you may get to the end and feel really unsatisfied, especially as the last segment is absolutely fucking terrible. However, A, D, L, maybe N, Q, R, S, T, U, V, X and, to an extent, Y are good enough to hold this movie together. The ABCs of Death was adventurous enough to warrant a (better, please) sequel, just don’t give any of the budget to F, G, M or Z.

TOILET

The Purge

PUIRGE

The Purge has an interesting, if a bit really ridiculous, premise. Set in 2022, on one night a year, America’s New Founding Fathers have granted its citizens 12 hours to ‘purge their sins’. They can enact their most depraved and twisted desires, such as murder (politicians and certain weapons are out of bounds), without feeling the weight of the law on their shoulders; it’s good for the national psyche don’t you know? Police, ambulance and fire services lock their doors, as do the residents of the upper echelons of the American elite; they shut out the horrific events occurring outside, yet watch with glee from their 50″ TVs. The poor become the most vulnerable, as gangs of affluent ‘hunters’ grab their semi-automatics and wage bloody carnage on the most defenceless members of society. It’s 12 hours of dystopia I tell you!

As good as this all sounds for the expectant horror fans among us, The Purge absolutely fails to deliver any tension, resolution or continuity within the story, or a set of sympathetic, intelligent characters. Ethan Hawke, his wife, their slutty daughter and geeky son live in an intentional parody of Middle Class America; their house might as well be on the set of Desperate Housewives or Cougar Town. And in spite of some really great character development at the beginning, when the alarm sounds for Purge hour, this film loses all hope and actually lost the entire audience in my screening.

The Purge has an allegory that suggests the 1% mentality, the closed-gate, rich communities and the gulf between the have-all and the have-none are inexplicably linked with America’s violent future, while mirroring the present. Nevertheless, this is completely rammed in your face, replete with overt, problematic race and class politics (why does the one homeless guy have to be black?) and any allegory eventually becomes secondary to the unadventurous gore and mindless acts of brutality. There is one stand-out scene which was grimace-inducing, but that was the only time the movie garnered any reaction from anyone in my screening.

Movies like The Strangers, Straw Dogs and Funny Games, although they all have their problems, at least make you feel violated as their plots get more intense and depraved, even if the endings are…abrupt. The Purge gets scared of its own premise and becomes an average action film and loses its way; I didn’t feel emotionally invested in the weak horror elements or thrilled by the action. There are huge inconsistencies in plot, character motivations (can everyone just stick together please?) and the direction and message just became a sloppy mess. When the ‘crazy’ group of 1% youth turn up at the family’s house – “We don’t want to hurt our own” they proclaim – they clearly aren’t normal human beings; the main guy, Rhys Wakefield, is a cross between Hannibal Lecter and Frankie Howard. It’s a terrible, clichéd characterisation and one that doesn’t make sense with the entire premise of the movie; the idea is that on one night of the year, the normal citizens of the States can go on killing sprees. It would have been way more effective if these normal people didn’t then turn into faux-possessed weirdos that looked straight out of The Invasion of the Bodysnatchers.

As the film hits fifth gear, it becomes even more frustrating. There are two half-arsed twists that are painfully obvious and the ending is just non-existent. Maybe the movie falls victim to its premise, because, in the direction it went, it became impossible to have a decent resolution to the plot, however that is not an excuse. It says a lot about a movie when cinema-goers all huff, puff and tell your movie to fuck off as they leave. I didn’t hear a good word about it from anyone and the screening was packed.

I revel in a decent exploitation action flick – Law Abiding Citizen. And I find a horror movie that delivers twisted, brutal imagery that makes you feel violated quite exhilarating – Martyrs. What I don’t love is a smorgasbord of plot holes; confused, boring second acts; stupid, unsympathetic characters; predictable linearity; and films that don’t have an ending – The Purge.

140 words; Nightmare on Elm Street (2012)

A Nightmare on Elm Street

“If you die in your dreams, you die for real”. Please, get these kids some Valium.

Another year, another remake. This time it’s the 80s classic, Nightmare on Elm Street; the original, a film about rich, suburban families living in a class bubble. However, any allegory here is lost.

Instead we get the Saw-esque, green-tinted, post-industrial griminess. A slasher movie trope is leering at the female form, however this just takes it to new, lurid levels. It’s horrible and valueless.

The movie is just lazy jump scare after lazy jump scare. We are thrown in the deep end without any character development, and nothing happens throughout. Kids get killed, and by the end I wanted everyone to die, even the ‘final girl’.

Nightmare on Elm Street has extremely high production values, yet it has absolutely zero cinematic value. Avoid.

The Loved Ones

thelovedones02

Can you hear that? That is the sound of an immensely satisfied horror fan. I watched The Loved Ones this week and, even 48 hours later, I feel like the cat that got the cream.

A feature length debut from Australian writer/director Sean Byrne, The Loved Ones is a demented coming-of-age tale of loss, jealousy and revenge. On paper, a movie that mixes tropes from torture movies, teen comedies, revenge narratives and female melodrama sounds like a complete mess, but somehow Byrne has found the perfect blend thanks to mature storytelling, humourous yet terrifying imagery and main characters in whom you believe.

Brent, troubled by the belief he caused his father’s death, struggles to cope at the end of his final year at high school. Unbeknownst to Brent and his loving girlfriend, Holly, a classmate, has a sinister plan to make Brent her date for the high school prom. At any cost.

In recent horror successes, rather than follow the exhausted tropes of their specific sub-genres, these movies involve a warping of expectations and an understanding of the audience. The Loved Ones begins with all the trappings of an indie, high school teen movie; characters are setup with their specific archetypes; the goofy best friend, Jamie, is established as the comedic release, and the music choice evokes memories of John Hughes at his peak. Act One isn’t without its visceral imagery – Brent self-harms, which we see on one occasion – but it never looks like it’s going to go down the route in which it ends up going.

Then it ramps up significantly. Daddy’s little princess should be a phrase everyone is familiar with, and it is pretty much the main narrative premise of The Loved Ones. One stylistic aspect of the movie I think deserves major credit is the use of the camera and sound/music to convey emotion. We see extreme close ups and POV shots when things are getting crazy, yet the next shot will be a Polanski-esque objective, fly-on-the-wall angle from one corner of the room. The camerawork and editing choices go the distance in their pursuit for laughs or cringing, and it definitely achieves this. Nevertheless, you could have the best director, sound designer and cinematographer in the world, but if your actors are sub-par then your movie will be a failure, and that this is not.

Every single member of cast becomes their character, and the most notable being Robin McLeavy as the psychotic, Lola. The director got her to watch Misery, Tarantino’s catalogue, Natural Born Killers, and research Jeffrey Dahmer as preparation for the role, and she absolutely nails it. There are points in which it becomes almost impossible to watch what is happening solely because she is so believable in her role. This movie, once it hits top gear, does not let up, and turns from what could be described as ‘torture porn’ into a revenge narrative. There are various twists and turns that will not be spoiled here, but are so satisfying as well as damn fun!

While all this insanity is being inflicted on Brent, and while the police are looking for him, we repeatedly see Jamie’s endeavours at his prom night; smoking pot, drinking vodka and trying to win over his school’s quiet, goth girl. While this becomes the comic relief, it also introduces some of the important plot points and character motivations. There are many things that on the surface may look unimportant, but everything is shown for a reason in The Loved Ones, ultimately making for a fantastic movie experience while you are trying to piece it all together.

The Loved Ones is one of the most complete horror movies I’ve seen in a long time. It’s clever, treats its audience with an obvious respect, and contains a perfect amount of gore, fucked up twists and an ending that leaves no stone unturned. We don’t do ratings here, but you can bet if we did this movie would be adorned with many twinkling stars.

Martyrs

martyrs

Every once in a while a film comes along that takes a genre by storm. These films instantly find themselves regarded as classics by critical and popular masses alike, and their name becomes a firm part of the cinematic lexicon. Martyrs, a 2008 French horror film, rightfully finds itself with this reputation.

The plot sounds like nothing groundbreaking  Lucie, a childhood victim of horrific mental and physical abuse, and her friend, Anna, find themselves on a mission for revenge that takes them to the darkest depths of human suffering. It’s a testament to the vision and skill of the film-makers that a movie such as this a resounding success.

Having already seen Martyrs three years ago I knew the plot, but even on a second viewing it really affected me; possibly even more than the first time round. It goes without saying that this film is absolutely stunning. Visually, thematically, and emotionally it delivers one of the most original, effective and complete cinematic experiences. The movie blends ambitious storytelling, exciting camera work  and shocking brutality that teeters on the edge of ‘torture porn’, but all in a tasteful way that demands from and achieves the ultimate attention of its audience.

Right from the outset it’s impossible not to be engaged. The back story for the main protagonist is set up with archive news footage and then we are thrown face first into the action. The tone of the movie is established by the first decision made by Lucie; it’s brutality at its worst and it lets us know we are in for a violent ride. This tone then is upheld throughout the narrative, despite a shift from the revenge horror set up at around the halfway point. The brutality never lets up and some of the imagery is terrifying, yet the characters are drawn so well it makes the movie compelling as well as emotionally effective. Martyrs could have easily been cheapened by two dimensional characters, so the writer/director Pascal Laugier deserves major credit. We are made to care for the two girls and their story, and they aren’t just vessels of pain to titillate the audience. Flashbacks are employed to drip feed us a deeper understanding of their motivations and the way in which these are shot and edited into the present day footage is extremely competent and ambitious. Each of the modern day scenes has its own special set piece, all adding to the rich visual tapestry and advances the story at a violent pace; one of note involves a bed, a shotgun and some feathers, which is shocking but beautiful to watch. One of the greatest choices made by Laugier, and one which I respect him for immensely, is he never sexualises the two main girls, or any of the women in the movie. We see naked flesh on a number of occasions, but it is always secondary, almost unnoticeable, to the main intention of those scenes.

The themes tackled by Martyrs are one of the main reasons this movie burns itself onto your mind. It deals with the pain of remembering and the pain of trying to forget. The existential overtones towards the end of the movie are impossible to ignore which will have you questioning your very existence; it becomes a document of pain, suffering and how far one would go to understand what comes after ‘it all’. The ending itself is very enigmatic (some may say unsatisfying), but it will force you to engage your brain even after the movie finishes, which is extremely rare, especially among other recent horror outings.

Even second time round this movie is special. Regardless of how jaded one might be, it’s absolutely harrowing, difficult to watch, challenging and brutal, and is definitely not for the weak of mind and stomach. All that said, it’s something that should be watched. Martyrs is the film that I haven’t been able to put out of my mind for three years. It is smart, not replete with horror cliches, and the subject matter has enough twists and turns to keep you from blinking or breathing. It’s so ambitious that it could have been a complete failure, which is part of the reason it has such a unequivocal impact. I’m going to go on record and say that I don’t think it has been or will be matched in the horror genre for years to come. Go and watch this movie, but don’t be annoyed at me if you do.