In some respects this is the anti-Hostel. Here the unrelenting violence, torture and degradation of the 'subjects' feels palpably real due to the emotional honesty that runs throughout the film. We the viewer are always situated in the shoes (or, to be more apt, the shackles) of the victims. We are dragged screaming, kicked, punched, chained-up, sliced-at with a razor blade and more.
Although I did think more than once - WHY DON'T YOU JUST GET THE FUCK OUT OF THAT GOD-AWFUL HOUSE?!
That niggle aside, this film really punishes the viewer. It's 90 minutes of visual assault and intensity. We are frequently left bewildered - by either the dizzyingly brutal violence, or by the whole point of the title of the film, which becomes increasingly apparent throughout the second half - right up to a jarring, shocking finale.
I've rarely felt this beaten up by a movie - other examples include:
The poor decision to watch August Underground, a perversely chaotic mess of indie filmmaking nastiness was one.
Another was a mid-afternoon showing of the UK film Boy Meets Girl at the Bristol Bloodbath Film Festival in 2006. Watching horror movies back-to-back in a small, dark, indie theatre in the back streets of Bristol was part of the reason I was left so physically shaken by the film, but mostly it was down to the determination of the film itself to skewer the audience - to ensnare them within the heinous torture traps on show.
Similarly, Martyrs is a gruelling experience - fortunately, despite the horrifying sights and sounds, the conviction of the filmmakers to take a horror sub-genre, which is frequently (disparagingly) called "torture porn", and pull it into reality.
Rather than wallowing in gore effect set pieces to make the audience "ooh" and "ahh" and cringe, Martyrs feels almost true ... with a recent rash of discoveries of women who were kidnapped at a young age and kept locked away for years upon years, this film is only the more shocking and illuminating. The horrors that these people have seen, and how it leaves their minds utterly scarred forever ... their bodies beaten, bruised and sometimes disfigured. The line between reality and make-believe gets uncomfortably blurred in Martyrs - but it's all the more worthwhile for it.
A brutally violent, creepy-as-all-hell, torture movie with a conscience ... if you come away without your mind infected with haunting imagery for a good while, then I'm not sure whether I should be fascinated or perturbed by your easy tolerance of such visual fare.
Honestly, I had to watch an hour of panel show comedy (in the form of Mock the Week) to balance me out afterwards, and now that I've spent a while writing this summary, I'm going to have to go and watch some more of The Godfather to rinse my head out.
Not for the squeamish, easily offended or horrified, quite simply.