Writer/director Pascal Laugier has made one of the most uncompromising and original horror films in years. He knows all the conventions of the horror genre and plays with them masterfully. Just when you think you know where Martyrs is going, Laugier pulls the rug out from under you. The carefully conceived look of the film and its serious tone are obviously influenced by European horror films of the '70s and '80s, but Laugier never wears his influences on his sleeve or descends into trite homage. Rather, this is a wholly original film that channels the spirit of its influences into something relevant and contemporary.
That Martyrs uses such extreme violence and brutality to realize its vision will no doubt offend and disgust many viewers. Therefore, it cannot be stressed strongly enough that if you are bothered by violent films, you should not watch this movie. Those who can get past that will find an intelligent and expertly made film that is surprisingly poignant in its own strange way. Part of the wave of horror movies pouring out of France in recent years, Martyrs isn’t just a great horror movie — it’s one of the best movies released in the U.S. this year, period. The DVD from the Weinstein Company includes both the original French audio track with subtitles and an English dub. ****