I haven’t been too busy with movies in the last week. I had to catch up on reality shows, with the sad result: all my suspicions were confirmed. It’s really just the German version that always sucks bad, and it’s our very own fault that we will never find a real idol, talent or top model. Our winners will stay exactly that: audition show winners, regardless of their quality.
The better result of a comparison is that Europe is stronger than ever when it comes to horror movies. While the US is busy to “re-interpret” successful Asian movies, come up with more pointless sequels of movies that are far beyond their highlights or to re-make classics/commit brutal blasphemy, Europe pays no attention to this trend and has found a silent agreement to go in a different direction.
[Rec] and High Tension are no longer exceptions from the prejudice that European movies aren’t daring enough or too artsy to shock.
Martyrs is great, as to be expected. I’m at a point where I’m more surprised if a French movie sucks than if it doesn’t. Martyrs is artsy, no doubt, but it is also extremly sick and graphic, right from the start. A girl, Lucie, escapes a torture chamber, grows up in a mental hospital, only talks to her best friend – Anna, another girl who was abused by her stepfather. After 15 years of silence, Lucie returns to the family that kept her like a dog in a dark chamber – with a shotgun. I call this the ‘first act’ – Lucie kills the family, even though they seem to have changed and live a normal life with their children now, while Anna, the more stable one, loves Lucie too much to give up on her. In the end of act one, Lucie commits suicide; she still sees a hallucination of a girl she left behind on her escape; an illusion that punishes her for that and finally drives her to cut her own throat.
Act two is actually the one losing some of the tension – surprisingly, because this is the actual torture porn part. A group of people, dressed in black and acting like a militia, rush into the house and take Anna prisoner. She had discovered a secret door to an underground facility, and found the girl Lucie saw in her halluciantions. Attempting to help her, she undersetimated how disturbed someone would be after over 15 years of torture. Well, she will discover it soon enough, as Anna takes her place in the dark chamber now.
Act three, or more the revelation act, finally reveals the intentions of the mystery militia. The group is dedicated to create Martyrs, unrelated to religion, by inflicting pain and suffering, in order to reach a state of ecstasy that allows the ‘Martyr’ to see ‘the other side’. Why exactly they do it? It’s not mentioned, but it also doesn’t matter. Martyrs manages it to stay interesting, even through the quiet parts of plain torture, lacking of any dialogue or explanation, and to come up with a satisfying end.
A Serbian Film is a revelation of it’s own. Someone actually got the concept of torture porn and brought it to a new level. Milos, a retired porn star in need of money, accepts the offer of the shady artist Vukmir to appear in his new movie. He soon starts to doubt the project, but tries to go through with it while his brother Marko, a policeman, investigates Vukmir.
The movie is like a 96 minutes drug trip through the eyes of Milos, and though it uses many elements I’m usually not too fond of, I would call it a perfect execution. We have a not always chronological storytelling, but it fits the blackout moments of Milos, the time steps and backflashes when the memories are triggered. We have some cases of handcamera, but again, this just underlines the unstable drugged scenes. The ‘artsy’ scenes shot by the strange cameramen sometimes remind of the glass box scenes in Tromeo and Juliet, just a lot rawer and sicker.
In movies that intentionally go for the most extreme perversions, it can easily come out forced, constructed and stay behind expectations. We’ve seen that in movies like Hostel, Wolf Creek, Hills Run Red or the Hills Have Eyes remakes. A Serbian Film, however, fulfills these expectations and presents them in such a raw and dirty way that it feels authentic and disturbing from the first moment to the last – and can still surprise through it all.
Session 9 as the only US production I watched last week, is certainly not a bad movie, but – sorry to say – pales in comparison to the outstanding European ones. It is by far more mystery than horror, but though there are a few graphic scenes (maybe 5 minutes and not going to any extremes) it creates a wonderful atmosphere of permanent danger. Sure, there are some parts of the plot that don’t make much sense and also don’t really reveal their meaning or relevance, but overall, the spooky scenery of an abandoned mental hospital makes up for it. It’s a nice watch, though I can see how it never made the big break.