Martyrs is a 2008 horror film written and directed by Pascal Laugier. It was first screened during the 2008 Cannes Film Festival at the Marché du Film, and the film's French release was on 3 September 2008. The American rights for the film were purchased by the Weinstein Company and the company was responsible for the release of the DVD in April 2009. An American remake of the film was in development as of November 2010, with the producers of Twilight overseeing the process. The film has been associated with the New French Extremity movement.
The film begins with a young girl, Lucie, as she escapes from a disused abattoir where she has been imprisoned and physically abused for a lengthy period of time. No signs of sexual abuse are identified, and the perpetrators and their motivations remain a mystery. Lucie is placed in an orphanage, where she is befriended by a young girl named Anna. Anna soon discovers that Lucie believes that she is constantly being terrorized by a ghoulish creature; a horrible, disfigured, emaciated woman covered in scars.
Fifteen years later, Lucie bursts into a seemingly normal family's home and kills them all with a shotgun. Lucie calls Anna to tell her that she has finally found and killed the people responsible for her childhood abuse and requests her help in burying the bodies. Upon arriving, Anna is horrified at the carnage, and worries that Lucie may have murdered the wrong people. Anna later discovers that the mother is still alive and tries to help her escape. Unfortunately, the two are discovered by Lucie, who bludgeons the mother to death. Lucie is again attacked by the scarred creature, but all Anna sees is Lucie banging her head against the wall and cutting herself with a hobby knife; the 'creature' is nothing more than a psychological manifestation of Lucie's guilt for leaving behind another girl who was also imprisoned and tortured with her as a child. Lucie tells the apparition that she killed its tormentors and that it can rest, but it has no effect. Lucie finally realizes that her insanity will never leave her and slits her throat. She dies in Anna's arms.
The next day, after mourning her friend's death, Anna attempts to clean up the house and discovers a secret underground chamber. Imprisoned within is a horribly tortured woman, covered in scars, with strange metal contraptions attached to her head and lower body. While Anna attempts to care for her and clean her wounds, a group of strangers arrive and shoot the woman dead. Captured by the menacing newcomers, Anna meets their leader, an elderly lady only referred to as Mademoiselle. Mademoiselle explains that she belongs to a secret society seeking to discover the secrets of the afterlife through the creation of "martyrs". She also explains that their society was responsible for Lucie's childhood kidnapping, as she was one of their earlier test subjects. Their experiments inflict systematic acts of torture upon young women in the belief that their suffering will result in a transcendental insight into the world beyond this one. So far, all of their attempts have failed, and they have only created "victims".
Anna becomes their latest subject and is imprisoned in a chamber. After an unspecified period, during which she is repeatedly beaten and degraded, Anna hallucinates a conversation with Lucie, who tells her to "let go" so she won't be afraid any more. Soon after, Anna is told she has progressed further than any other test subject, and has reached the "final stage" and will suffer no more. Anna is taken to a surgeon and is flayed alive. She survives the procedure, entering a state that is described as being "euphoric" and likened to achieving transcendence. Mademoiselle arrives, eager to speak to Anna about her experience. Anna turns to her and whispers into her ear.
Members of the society begin gathering at the house to learn of the insights Anna shared with Mademoiselle. During the assembly, the MC mentions that there have been only four previous martyrs. As Mademoiselle prepares herself, a doubting member asks her if what Anna said was clear and precise. Mademoiselle replies that there is no room for interpretation, and asks him if he could imagine what comes after death. When he says no, she tells him to "keep doubting" and places a pistol in her mouth and shoots herself. An intertitle informs the audience that "martyr" is Greek for "witness".
- Morjana Alaoui as Anna Assaoui
- Erika Scott as young Anna
- Mylène Jampanoï as Lucie Jurin
- Jessie Pham as young Lucie
- Catherine Bégin as Mademoiselle
- Isabelle Chasse as the Creature
- Robert Toupin as le père
- Patricia Tulasne as la mère
- Juliette Gosselin as Marie
- Xavier Dolan-Tadros as Antoine
Pascal Laugier said that "the film was rejected by all the big French studios, by a lot of actresses, too. […] The film was really supported by Canal+, the only television channel in France that still finances some unusual projects". He also comments that the main difficulty other than the technical issues such as special effects was to keep the actresses crying all the time, and that was too demanding.
The film was categorized as a new example of new era French horror films akin to Inside with regard to the level of violence it depicts. The film ranking website Rotten Tomatoes reported that 52% of critics had given the film positive reviews, based upon a sample of 25. Todd Brown at Twitch called it "without a doubt the single most divisive film to screen in the Cannes Marche Du Film this year", while Ryan Rotten at shocktillyoudrop.com claims that the film "is the new yard stick against which all forms of extreme genre films should be measured against".
The film received an 18+ rating in France (unsuitable for children under 18 or forbidden in cinemas for under 18) which the producers of the film appealed. The French Society of Film Directors (SRF) have also asked the French ministry of culture to re-examine the decision remarking that "this is the first time a French genre film has been threatened with such a rating". The Union of Film Journalists has adopted the same position as the SRF, claiming censorship.
Laugier has confirmed in an interview that he is currently in the middle of negotiating the rights for Martyrs to be remade in America. It will be directed by Daniel Stamm, director of The Last Exorcism, and written by Mark L. Smith, writer of Vacancy. The film comes from the producers of Twilight. The producer of the film has said he would like Twilight actress Kristen Stewart for the film, though her presence in the film was later denied by Stamm.
Stamm has said "[The original film] is very nihilistic. The American approach [that I'm looking at] would go through all that darkness but then give a glimmer of hope. You don't have to shoot yourself when it's over."