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Episode 123 - Martyrs (w/ Adam Egypt Mortimer)


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Poll: Episode 123 - Martyrs (w/ Adam Egypt Mortimer) (33 member(s) have cast votes)

Should "Martyrs" enter The Canon?

  1. Yes (17 votes [51.52%] - View)

    Percentage of vote: 51.52%

  2. No (16 votes [48.48%] - View)

    Percentage of vote: 48.48%

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#1 Dalton Maltz

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Posted 08 October 2017 - 10:57 PM

Filmmaker Adam Egypt Mortimer joins Amy to continue Horror Movie Month with one of Adam’s all-time picks, the French 2008 film “Martyrs.” They discuss the New French Extremity movement, the film’s unorthodox exploration of trauma, and how it puts the horrifying back into the horror genre. Plus, Amy and Adam break torture porn down to its basics before making their cases as to whether “Martyrs” should enter The Canon.

#2 Threshold

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Posted 09 October 2017 - 05:27 AM

I thought we went through this debacle with Cannibal Holocaust;
but this film is 100x more messed than that.

A resounding no.
Gratuitous is probably the best way to describe it. It keeps flipping back from deeply disturbing to kind of boring in its intense gore/horror/psychological horror- so the worst kind of horror. I watched this about 4 years back, and haven't got any desire to revisit it, despite my love for the Canon.

#3 mrm1138

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Posted 09 October 2017 - 08:25 AM

The discussion of this movie was just dripping with pretension, but I guess it only makes sense considering that the movie itself is, as well. I can see a case for including it in the Canon, since it became a very popular and polarizing film upon its release, but I personally don't find it worthy. (I'd sooner have it included than the aforementioned Cannibal Holocaust, though.)

#4 JoshEck

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Posted 09 October 2017 - 10:34 AM

I'm shocked that the discussion didn't touch on the final line of the film which is a stunner that haunted me for quite a while after I watched it. (I'm referring to that brief exchange between the Mademoiselle and Etienne, through a closed door)

I think Adam's arguments for the film were extremely compelling and I went from wanting to vote "no" to a pretty confident "yes." This is a challenging and upsetting film and I almost stopped watching about 2/3 through, but I'm glad I stuck with it because I could tell it was transcending "torture porn" and doing something powerful and subversive. I don't think I've ever been so devastated by a film but I think it makes an important point.

Pretty sure I'll never watch it again, though.

#5 sycasey 2.0

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Posted 09 October 2017 - 10:59 AM

I agree with Amy that the filmmaking in the middle section is not super-impressive. Maybe that's because I'm not a filmmaker like our esteemed guest, but while I appreciate the discussion of color grade, my larger issue with this section is editing and mise-en-scene. I found it a long parade of extreme close-ups and unmotivated quick-cut "Bayhem" editing, and it made me slump in my seat and check out of the movie for a little while. I don't see how the filmmaking helps tell the story here, apart from making everything feel "intense."

The other problem for me is that I don't see why all of this is necessary to make the point seemingly made at the end of the film, about enduring pain and torment for the sake of seeing something previously unknown. No one endures anything until forced to do so; the whole segment is about people trying (and failing) to escape a bad situation. The movie is constantly throwing new plot turns and character details at us in this middle section, but to me it feels scattershot, like a filmmaker throwing things at the wall. It's not a satisfying A-to-B-to-C build towards a climax. The last segment in the basement dungeon is better, but also feels like a completely different movie about a methodical torture chamber, almost entirely divorced from the frantic revenge plot we'd seen to that point.

This all gets me to the larger issue I have with this movie, which is that while there is an interesting intellectual discussion to be had from the material presented in it, I don't see a consistent process or approach from the filmmakers to lead us to that discussion. There are a lot of interesting strands, but the movie doesn't pick any of them up until very late, and then doesn't tie them together with everything that happened in the earlier scenes. What I get from Laugier in Martyrs is a general assumption that just because he made you FEEL something, that's enough. Yes, I felt true disgust and horror while watching this movie. But to me that's not the end goal, that's just a tool to get the audience to a larger point you want to make about life, art, humanity, etc. I can see that in the work of some of the other filmmakers mentioned in the podcast (Noe, Denis, Von Trier, etc.). I can also see that in some other classic horror films that I'd easily support for Canon status. I don't see that in Martyrs. It's a no.

P.S. It seemed to be taken as a given that this was an influential film for modern filmmakers. First of all, that seems like a shaky claim for any film from 2008. But secondly, what other films have shown clear influence from this? The most notable element would seem to be the torture chamber at the end, but Saw was four years ahead of this and a lot more culturally impactful (if maybe not as good a movie). What new cinematic trends came out of Martyrs?

#6 MonkeyArcher

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Posted 09 October 2017 - 12:04 PM

I guess I am the guy that Amy is afraid of, because I laughed out loud in parts of this movie (and I thought we had bonded over our mutual love of Pennies From Heaven...) I laughed because this movie is such a mess that the choice is to either laugh at how pretentiously preposterous this movie is or to just turn it off.

I can see that there is deeper parts to this movie, but they are unsuccessfully carried through endless visuals and tropes that have been done in prior movies to much better success. And I agree that the guilt-monster is at best unconvincing (it is one of the laugh moments, along with the bizarre self-inflicted wound scenes, for much the same reason that Amy pointed out. The end flaying scene is so obviously the actress in a body-suit that she just looks like she is getting ready to come in second at a Halloween costume contest.
The best part of the movie is the Mademoiselle, who I know I am supposed to find monstrous, but she was the only compelling character in the whole movie for me. Her end is more effecting than anything else in this movie.

I know that there are people who love this movie. I have even run into those who put this as their favorite horror movie ever, which is usually an indication that I am not going ot enjoy most their movie recommendations in the future.

(The Tingler was a much much much better movie, even without gimmicks.)


#7 anangrybeet

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Posted 09 October 2017 - 01:26 PM

An easy yes, the New French Extremity should definitely have something in the canon, and Martyrs is the best of those films.

#8 Sarah Nicks

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Posted 09 October 2017 - 05:14 PM

Is transcendent horror a thing? If so, Martyrs qualifies. It manages to feel original while wildly quoting so many of the best horror tropes. While overwhelmingly brutal it is also very sensitive film - take the scene where Lucie is laying on the couch looking up at her hands covered in blood, or how Ana's gelatinous looking foot slowly touches down on the floor in the post 'skinning' scene (blah!) or the moment when the tortured woman in the chamber realizes Ana is approaching her in kindness. I do not always appreciate the cinematography in newer horror films but this one got me. I also loved the point made in the discussion that this film travels through so many genres from Texas Chainsaw, Funny Games to Alien. It does so effortlessly without belaboring the viewer with too many unnecessary details to move the plot along. I was constantly surprised, on edge and satisfied by all its many twists and turns. If it was my last dying breath as I gazed upon the unknown it would be a soft and barely audible (yes) into the ear of my captor.

Can't wait to watch more from the New French Extremity. Can someone start a recommendation thread for this genre?

#9 DrEricFritz

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Posted 09 October 2017 - 06:17 PM

Great episode, I loved the discussion, and now my thoughts.

I first need to poke a large hole in Adam's dissection of the film. The film is not French, but French-Canadian. Just a quick look at the Wikipedia page shows that the production companies are both in France and Canada. It was clearly filmed in Quebec, the trees are a dead give away being in North America. You can also hear it in their accents. For example, oi (yes) is pronounced "why" and not "we," as you would find in France. Which then deflates much of the analysis about French cultural implications from WWII. Toronto, Montreal, and much of Canada is a very diverse and finding half-Asians or half-Moroccans, speaking French, is common, particularly in that part of Canada. Yes, the director is French, it first played in France, had a French distributor, but I would argue that its setting cannot be denied.

What I think it does play to, is the religiosity. My reading of the film, particularly with a title like Martyrs, is it that this would somehow be about religion. It being French Canadian (or French for that matter), I assumed it would be about the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church asks its followers to strip themselves of everything they have for the greater good of the church. Mademoiselle represents the bureaucracy and hierarchy of the Church, the family are the ordained priests, brothers, and sisters, and Lucy and Anna are the lay people. Lucy fights the system, Anna is slightly compliant until learning the horrible disturbing truth of religion. The ending then was a comment that the eternal belongs not the Church, but its people.

I do love Adam's analysis of Anna being Mother. I also love Mademoiselle's explanation of horror films. Those are some really cool, keen insights that had not occurred to me at all. The movie does ask for second viewings, third, maybe fourth. Though, I do not foresee myself wanting to watch this too often. I do think that brutal violence only really works when there is a point. Tarantino is often picked on for the amount of violence depicted in his films, but that is because we care. We develop empathy for the situation. Sheesh, Superman destroys half a city, murders thousands and I did not care. Anna's journey in this film is tough to watch because, well, I cared.

Lastly, I want to add that I am really happy to have seen this. I do not know how I missed seeing this when it came out as it is the kind of thing I like watching; foreign horror is often a very fascinating watch. I found the film, despite some of the more cliched elements, to move along at just the right pace. When one section seemed to be finished, a new compelling element was introduced. Once that played out, introduce another element. I also think the sound design and score are really effective. When there is so little dialogue, the sound and score need to fill that void, which it did competently.

I found myself on the fence on this one. I really liked it, felt it was a bit exploitive, but it had a point to make, made the point competently and strongly, which is why I ultimately went yes.

#10 Adam Egypt Mortimer

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Posted 11 October 2017 - 12:42 PM

Hey I wanted to say THANK YOU to Canon fans for watching this movie and engaging with it. I know it's a tough watch -- I feel honored to have been invited onto the show and would not have brought this insane movie to you if I didn't think (love it or hate it!) it was a crucial film.

I started a recommendation thread with some more French New Extremity suggestions, please check them out if you're interested (thanks for that request, Sara Nicks)

It's so enjoyable to see everyone's reaction and discussion. This group is AWESOME.

DrEricFritz, I wanted to address the issue you raise about the film's nationality, which is an interesting way to look into the way nationality can play into a movie DESPITE it's physical location. While it's true that they shot MARTYRS in Canada, this is a financial and below-the-line aspect only. The director Pascal Laugier is French and talks about this films in terms of the economics and culture of the French film industry -- in that he claims, rather pessimistically, that there's not a strong interest in France to pay for or see these kinds of movies. I've also read interviews in which he talks about the challenges shooting in Canada to make it look or feel like France. The stars are French (Morjana Alaoui, who plays Anna, was born in Casablanca but moved to Paris at 18; Mylene Jampanoi was born in France). The cinematographers are both French. Probably the majority of below the line crew members were local to the Canadian production, as well as the rest of the cast (Amy mentioned that Xavier Dolan, Canadian filmmaker and darling of Cannes, shows up for a moment). So overall the sensibilities, creative heads, and concerns of this film are entirely French. Oftentimes economic concerns behind the production of a film may bring it to far-flung lands, but it would be a Byzantine argument to claim that changes our understanding of where the film originates.

For comparison, they shoot Star Wars films at Pinewood Studios in London, but I don't think anyone wants to make the argument that JJ Abrams, Rian Johnson, or George Lucas should be thought of as making a British movie. Or even an African film, for that matter, as much of A New Hope was shot in Tunisia.

THANKS EVERYONE FOR BRAVELY WATCHING AND ENGAGING WITH THIS TRAUMATIC MOVIE!!

#11 sycasey 2.0

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Posted 11 October 2017 - 01:47 PM

I am enjoying the podcast guest's engagement here on the forum. More please!

#12 TheFanon

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Posted 11 October 2017 - 01:57 PM

My reaction toward this film reminded me a lot to my reaction to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre in that it left me more thoroughly depressed than scared (which, of course, isn't a bad thing).

#13 DrEricFritz

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Posted 11 October 2017 - 06:04 PM

View PostAdam Egypt Mortimer, on 11 October 2017 - 12:42 PM, said:

For comparison, they shoot Star Wars films at Pinewood Studios in London, but I don't think anyone wants to make the argument that JJ Abrams, Rian Johnson, or George Lucas should be thought of as making a British movie. Or even an African film, for that matter, as much of A New Hope was shot in Tunisia.


Thanks for replying! I had such a hard time getting the Quebec accent out of my ear since I know its sound. And I would also point out that the multi-national production of the Star Wars movies lend themselves to being beyond their filming locations, having a strongly American and British cast. The smaller and fewer actors of Martyrs, the accent and mostly singular location jumped out at me. Although, now I'm thinking of the Star Wars prequels and their hugely problematic accents... Whatever.

Upon reflection, I think you, Adam, are spot on. It got me thinking of Armando Iannucci's The Death of Stalin, which does not concern itself with anything but the thematic material, obvious from the trailers. I watched the film before listening to the podcast and the discussion was strictly about France and French culture, which surprised me. The location and accent was strongly apparent to me. Perhaps there is another reading of the movie that lends itself to Quebec and French-Canadian culture which has at many times tried to divorce itself from the English speaking portion of the country while never succeeding. As if, French-Canadians, have martyred their French identity for their Canadian identity. I will leave that at: I need to think about that some more.

This speaks to the film's flexible interpretations. I am a believer that the artist and their intentions can often and should be separate from their interpretations. I love that simply by filming Martyrs in Canada, it can to certain audience members such as myself, see something else in the film that may not have been intentionally there.

Thank again Adam for replying - I am really glad you brought this to the Canon.

#14 GeorgeBP

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Posted 12 October 2017 - 08:58 AM

I wanted to hug Adam for giving such a thoughtful and passionate defense of this tremendously underrated movie. You expressed many of the same thoughts I had while watching Martyrs (I've actually told my girlfriend, after we both watched it and were stuck in existential dread for a few hours, that this is the 2001 - A Space Odyssey of horror movies), but you also described a metalinguistic subtext I never realized until listening to the podcast. Martyrs is everything a transcendental horror movie should aspire to be: beautifully filmed, bold, horrifying, disturbing, yet ultimately empathetic and human. 100% YES.

#15 0=Axel=0

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Posted 12 October 2017 - 09:23 PM

Never felt like checking this movie out, but I've now been forced to, and I'm glad I was. Surprisingly well-crafted and without a trace of irony, Martyrs is the first time I've felt true deep horror from a movie in a long time. Definite YES.

#16 bleary

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Posted 13 October 2017 - 12:16 PM

sycasey 2.0's post here was great and gives all the reasons and more that I'm voting no on this one.

I want to talk about a couple things that were mentioned briefly on the podcast but haven't been discussed in this thread yet. First, did anyone else have a little shudder when the Weinstein Company logo popped on the screen at the beginning? I mean, it appears Harvey had little to no involvement in this film, but it certainly made me cringe, particularly since this film centers around the idea of women being abused, albeit non-sexually.

And speaking of the abuse, I want to talk about a thing I hate in movies that pops up across genres, which is where a film tries to criticize the glorification of some vice by glorifying it itself. Like how in "The Wolf of Wall Street," where the 80s business culture of drugs and misogyny is satirized by... showing how much fun drugs and misogyny are? So in this movie, Mademoiselle's monologue in which it becomes apparent that she's making meta-commentary about the horror genre and fans of the horror genre made my eyes roll. The sadistic villain explaining why gory movies are appealing, in a way that, I believe, is supposed to make the viewer realize that it's pretty fucked up. And yet, 15 minutes earlier we had a shot of metal staples being removed from a woman's skull. And I can't help but say that I agree with Mademoiselle's meta-commentary, that wanting to watch this movie is a little fucked up. Same goes for Mademoiselle's line about why it's "better" to torture young women than anyone else. It feels like simultaneously trying to take a stand against violence towards women, while also showing basically nothing but violence towards women. How are we supposed to feel about Anna at the end of this film? Happy that she lived? Sad that she didn't die sooner? I don't know if I believe the film even cared at that point, because it got to close on exactly what Mademoiselle had wanted: a still frame shot of a broken person. Is that what you wanted to see too?

#17 sycasey 2.0

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Posted 13 October 2017 - 01:56 PM

View Postbleary, on 13 October 2017 - 12:16 PM, said:

And speaking of the abuse, I want to talk about a thing I hate in movies that pops up across genres, which is where a film tries to criticize the glorification of some vice by glorifying it itself. Like how in "The Wolf of Wall Street," where the 80s business culture of drugs and misogyny is satirized by... showing how much fun drugs and misogyny are? So in this movie, Mademoiselle's monologue in which it becomes apparent that she's making meta-commentary about the horror genre and fans of the horror genre made my eyes roll. The sadistic villain explaining why gory movies are appealing, in a way that, I believe, is supposed to make the viewer realize that it's pretty fucked up. And yet, 15 minutes earlier we had a shot of metal staples being removed from a woman's skull. And I can't help but say that I agree with Mademoiselle's meta-commentary, that wanting to watch this movie is a little fucked up. Same goes for Mademoiselle's line about why it's "better" to torture young women than anyone else. It feels like simultaneously trying to take a stand against violence towards women, while also showing basically nothing but violence towards women. How are we supposed to feel about Anna at the end of this film? Happy that she lived? Sad that she didn't die sooner? I don't know if I believe the film even cared at that point, because it got to close on exactly what Mademoiselle had wanted: a still frame shot of a broken person. Is that what you wanted to see too?


I will say that the difference for me in Wolf of Wall Street is that Scorsese's presentation does more to make it clear that he is satirizing the culture and implicating the audience, especially the final shot of the expectant audience members listening to Belfort's speech. We see how the lead character makes choices and brings the negative consequences upon himself. But Scorsese is also a more precise and considered filmmaker and seems to have a better handle on cause-and-effect than I saw in Martyrs.

#18 FictionIsntReal

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Posted 13 October 2017 - 02:28 PM

This is an interesting case because, I did not enjoy this movie: even restricting myself to New French Extremity films I'd heartily recommend "Inside" over this, as a much more fun cat-and-mouse game. This is a film about torture (or "suffering", as the director put it) in which, as Amy says, it's entirely desexualized and even made dull & bureaucratic. At the same time, it has set a certain standard for "extremity" in horror films, and done so in a way intended to make the audience think about something rather than merely dwell on viscera. The twists were genuinely surprising, and I cared about the people subject to these fates. But horror filmmakers are always trying to find ways to push boundaries, so I don't know if something else will displace this as The Extreme Horror Movie. If/when that does happen, I probably won't enjoy watching that.

#19 Threshold

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Posted 16 October 2017 - 04:29 AM

So all in all, it's a chore that wavers between disgust, mortified and boredom. I'm glad someone brought up emotion earlier, and that Adam found it to be a deeply emotional film. But I almost cry at a dog dying in film; so are most people. The idea that we need to somehow 'wake up' horror fans to be more aware of what they're seeing is an interesting idea, but as Adam said it's played 100% straight, so I'm not sure people would have the same meta-awareness of what they are experiencing since the face-value experiences are so intense and overwhelming.

I feel it's a complete mis-fire in its premise, but *of course* this film was able to be almost too good at its execution.
Still a very hard no from me.

But I did love hearing Adam's arguments for this film. Very thoughtful and empathetic; I was fearing seeing Marytrs as a Canon episode that the guest would be gleefully talking about how fucked up it is, but you approached it with such empathy.