The pre-film buzz was audible, this was the first film in French cinema history given the equivalent of an X-rating due to violent imagery instead of sexual content. At the MM screening someone had to leave to vomit. There were stories that at the other screenings some may have passed out. What kind of monstrous creation would elicit such a reaction?

Simply one of the best, most haunting midnight madness films in TIFF history. This is gore done by an auteur, an Exorcist for the thinking agnostic. Unapologetically cerebral, there’s still enough shock and horror to make similar high-browed horror (say, Silence of the Lambs) seem like child’s play.

Ostensibly about a woman overcoming memories of her abuse, only to find that her daemons cannot lie low, there’s such a dramatic 90 degree turn midway through that it’d be a shame to say more about it. Suffice it to say, this is no silly slasher flick or ghoul fest, but a work of depravity told with astonishing style. There is much to admire on a technical level, be it the sustained intensity of the performances, the impeccable makeup effects, or the original yet downright creepy cinematography.

In introducing the film, the director made pointed and disparaging remarks about another cerebral, violent thriller (Haeneke’s Funny Games), one he decried as a gratuitous mess, truly exploitational of its subject by refusing to go the obvious distance. While I don’t agree with his analysis, it’s clear that the unflinching violence and horror in Martyrs is well earned, it is painful to watch in the way Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs or Von Trier’s Breaking the Waves is. Like in those two masterpieces, the violence is earned, the shock and horror never mere dressing to the narrative.

Many will avoid this, writing it off as genre crap. Others would certainly not be able to stomach what’s clearly one of the more shocking films of this or any other festival. Delving into the mad world of Martyrs is a dark and dangerous place, but it’s an aesthetically rewarding one, pushing the boundaries of genre cinema and creating a truly horrific horror film.