Sunday, August 26, 2012

Horror Off-Season: Martyrs

It's no secret by now that I dislike gore-porn/gorror/whatever.  I'm not going to deny that Hostel piqued my interest when it first came out.  It had a pretty flimsy story with a few predictable reveals, but the visuals were really uncomfortable since nothing in recent memory had really done that level of torture in a movie.  Of course, then I watched Cannibal Holocaust, the granddaddy of it all, and the 5,000 clones whose sole purpose was to do what Hostel did except MOAR! and the whole concept quickly wore thin.

So I knew I was going to have a hard time being objective about Martyrs, the 2008 French horror film directed by Pascal Laugier.  Especially after last week's misadventure with The Loved Ones, I wasn't entirely sure I wanted to get into a movie from what is quickly becoming the most trite subgenre of horror.  But I felt that if I didn't give it a fair chance I'd feel like a complete hypocrite.

One of my main defenses to the outright damning of any and all remakes is that a film should be allowed to stand or fall by its own merits rather than impossible comparisons.  Martyrs sort proves my point in that I should really hate this film since it is literally about torture.  However, I actually wound up walking away thinking this was something that provided some food for thought.  If I had rejected the movie because it looked like it should be terrible, I would've missed out on this.

The story that unfolds is actually damn interesting.  It's one of those narratives that gives you plenty of information but really doesn't like contextualizing anything.  There's a tremendous amount of dots strewn about the screen and the movie actually respects me enough to trust that I can connect enough of them myself.  It's something I can actually think about after the movie's runtime is over, and almost begs for it since the plot just doesn't make sense so you want to try to explain it.

What I'm not going to say is that Martyrs is the amazing or mindblowing film that scratches every possible horror itch imaginable because it's so multifaceted and amazing.  The key problem is that it thinks its most interesting qualities are the visceral: The blood, torture, beatings, skinning, etc. So that's where the movie lays its focus.  Even when it tries to slow down to let an emotional impact sink in, it's focusing on the impact of the physical torture instead of the more emotional hallucinations or flashbacks.  It's almost bro-horror in how vehemently it denies the emotional engagement of its own story.

It's also somewhat strange in that the first 40 minutes seems like a totally different movie.  So you've got a home invasion plot, then the invader starts to go a little crazy.  She kills herself and then the movie sort of meanders for a few minutes before going into some cult/abduction/torture plot.  There's a lot to explore in regards to the psychology of what's going on, but the movie kindof glosses over it so it can lovingly shoot and edit the repeated beatings of the protagonist.

Martyrs has an interesting story with the potential for a lot of good depth, but it's squandered because the movie is more interested in kicking the snot out of its characters and drilling things into people's heads.  It's a decently well shot movie, and the special effects are really good.  One thing that struck me was that even though it is really up front with the torture, it's not done in the typical "LOOK AT THAT, DUDE! THAT'S SICK!" fashion that a lot of these movies tend to do, it's actually somewhat artfully done.  It's a pretty good movie that could have been a great movie if it just focused on story and character instead of trying so hard to be gory and shocking.  In a lot of ways it's more like Saw than Hostel because it's not actually about the torture.

It's definitely got me interested in Pascal's other features: House of Voices and The Tall Man

UPDATE: I recently rewatched the movie and that has caused me to downgrade my opinion of it.  The movie has illusions of profundity but utterly fails to live up to it.  It's visually slick, but structurally jumbled.  Each question to be explored was actually just answered with "Because MARTYRS, that's why!", or specifically with "Because the cult thinks torturing girls can reveal truth." which doesn't actually lead anywhere as a line of questioning.  My original statement remains, this could have been a great movie if it cared about characters instead of just slapping them around, but I have downgraded it from "pretty good" to "...ok"


Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Horror Off-Season: The Loved Ones

What the hell did I just watch?  It claims to be a movie called The Loved Ones, an Australian horror film written and directed by Sean Byrne.  What I think it actually is, is a prank in some absurd contest between horror directors for who can come up with the most deranged, over-the-top, stupid-bloody, bizarre and senseless crap possible.

I'm sure a lot of this is going to mirror my complaints about Asylum Blackout, but that movie actually had a character or two, a setup, and an ok ending.  The Loved Ones exists solely to bombard the viewer with as much twisted violence as possible, delivered by some cute but mentally disturbed girl.  Which I'm sure is part of its angle, a sort of "Oooo lookie she wears pink and lobotomizes boys with a power drill while giggling about it" thing.

Well, that jokes gets old pretty quickly and the movie has nothing else that makes any sense to offer.  The beginning of the movie is a perfect example:  It starts in teen movie mode, with pretty-boy Brent doing school, buying drugs, talking about condoms with his friend.  There's a dance coming up and Brent is going with his girlfriend, Holly.  This requires him to turn down a sweet, comely girl, named Lola.  Brent goes to screw his girlfriend in the car, and after he gets to EXPERIENCE BIJ he goes home and acts depressed.  Suddenly, he's decided to go into the wilderness and climb a rock face.  After staring at the sun he for a while he's assaulted by an old guy and dragged off to a pickup truck.  If that seems jarring and inconsistent, it's because it is.  I have no idea why our protagonist went from getting laid, to listening to heavy metal, to mumbling at his mom, to free climbing, except to provide a conveniently isolated location for him to be abducted from.

The rest of the movie plays like a mating of the Mickey Mouse Club and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.  With lobotomized cannibal pseudo-zombies.  Can't forget those.  They're in there, in some secret basement pit with blast-doors under the living room floor.  And I think the worst part is that everything that I've mentioned, aside from the heavy metal and the rock climbing, are in the preview.  There's nothing this movie has, plot wise, that hasn't already been shown.  So the only reason to watch is to see everything that was hinted at get revealed in uncensored glory.  It's like they made a trailer and then filled in the blanks.

The Loved Ones also does that high-contrast, slightly desaturated thing that seems pretty popular now in movies like yellowbrickroad, though the scenes in the torture house are sharply lit and over-saturated to make everything look even more screwed up and garish.  I was half expecting low-angle shots with a fish-eye lens like a 90s grunge music video.

The one shot I actually enjoyed was right at the end where Lola's in the prom dress, bloody and beaten, crawling down the street with a cleaver in-hand.

Outside of that, this was like...Disney presents iCarly in HOSTEL.  I am so sick of torture porn.  I'm gonna go watch Absentia again.