A new column examines the influences of horror movies & what has influenced them via side-by-side film frame comparisons.
The Revenant. 2015. Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu. Screenplay by Mark L. Smith & Alejandro González Iñárritu; based in part on the novel by Michael Punke.
Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson, Will Poulter, Forrest Goodluck, Paul Anderson, Kristoffer Joner, Joshua Burge, Christopher Rosamond, Robert Moloney, Lukas Haas, and Brendan Fletcher. New Regency Pictures/Anonymous Content/Appian Way/RatPac Entertainment/Soho VFX.
Rated 14a. 156 minutes.
Alejandro González Iñárritu is a director I’ve admired for a while. Around 13 years ago I remember seeing Amores perros on television; I went on to get the name of the film tattooed on my wrist, after it became a favourite of mine. Pretty much every one of his films since have been magical, in some way, shape or form. Whether it be the story itself or just the way Iñárritu serves it up for us, the movies he makes are unique and exceptionally made overall. This one is no different.
And while I definitely believe The Revenant is one of the best films of the past 15 years, I wasn’t totally pleased with the story. Lots of fun, no doubt. It’s the distortion of what’s known about Hugh Glass, the focus of the story; I know films get dramatized, and I love parts of what this screenplay added onto Glass at times, yet there could’ve been plenty intensity without all that. Nevertheless, with Iñárritu alongside composer Ryuichi Sakamoto, the immensely talented cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, plus a host of others including Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy, The Revenant has the goods and also gives us an interesting, intensely raw modern Western.
During a trapping expedition in 1823, Captain Andrew Henry (Domnhall Gleeson) leads a party of men through the wilderness of America. In the party are John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) and Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio), as well as Hugh’s son, a native boy named Hawk (Forrest Goodluck), among others. After an encounter with the Arikara, a Native American tribe, the hunting party ends up on the run.
The worst comes when Hugh is mauled savagely by a bear before luckily killing it. Afterwards, Fitzgerald suggests putting Hugh out of his misery, though, others are much more willing to try and help. What little they can, anyways. When a young Mountain Man Jim Bridger (Will Poulter) and Hawk stay behind along with Fitzgerald, Captain Henry instructs that if and when Glass succumbs to his wounds, he’s offered a proper burial.
Only Fitzgerald ends up doing the unthinkable, killing Hawk in an argument, then convinces Bridger with a lie to leave Glass to die, half-buried in a grave.
But Hugh survives. As Fitzgerald and Bridger move back towards an American settlement, Glass tries to hang on. Hoping to cross their paths again.
Between the scenery and Emmanuel Lubezki’s wonderful eye, as well as Iñárritu and his vision, the look of The Revenant lingers with me. All the shooting with natural light truly is gorgeous. And it isn’t just how nice things look either. The forest, the people, everything feels raw and untouched. Nasty even, at times. It makes everything look better in that the stripped down cinematography helps the realism. There are so many amazing sequences, one after another. Possibly my favourite are a couple of the dream-like moments in the screenplay where Glass sees very wild images. I like that there are these surreal pieces thrown in now and then. The whole film has plenty of typical but awesome Western imagery, on top of that Iñárritu shows us these vivid, strange scenes where Glass is almost outside of himself, outside of the world. A bunch of action sequences in the movie are completely worth the salt, including the opening moments depicting a run-in with a Native American tribe which drives Glass, Henry and the others out into the wilderness, down the river. The movie starts off with a big bang. But it’s not like a typical action movie, the cinematography and the entire production just pulls you into that world, the space of these characters so immediately.
Everyone onscreen throughout The Revenant does a fantastic job, even the small roles played by the likes of two actors I love such as Brendan Fletcher and Kristoffer Joner. Then we’ve got Will Poulter depicting Jim Bridger at age nineteen before he went on to become the fabled Mountain Man (though his actual involvement in Glass’ desertion is debated historically); Poulter pulls his weight, that’s for certain.
But the showcase comes from Tom Hardy and Leonardo DiCaprio. The way Hardy oozes menace even without saying much is a testament to his acting ability. Apparently he drew from Tom Berenger in Platoon, which I can absolutely see. There’s a great cinematic villain here that will stand the test of time in the Western genre.
DiCaprio gives what is arguably his best performance. No hype. He gives the expected grueling performance at certain times. Then at others there’s a perfect silence about his disposition. We could get bored watching him. Instead, he says what more often than not Glass actually can’t, with his face and eyes instead of tons of exposition. Most of all, the determination is visible at every moment, his inextinguishable courage always present. The vulnerability of Glass’ character, alone in the wild, is also something Leo gets across because of the youthfulness in him, but even more so due to the fact of his nuance as an actor. I’ve always enjoyed the range DiCaprio has displayed over the course of his interesting career. Here, The Revenant gives him a chance to show a ton of that, from start to finish.
Even with the historical liberties taken story-wise, Iñárritu’s film is a 4 star production. Top to the bottom, all aspects of The Revenant fire on every available cylinder. DiCaprio and Hardy put on an absolute clinic, as far as acting goes. Then you’ve got Gleeson and Poulter in supporting roles that add plenty to the whole show. But the technical side of things, the filming (and even the CGI on the bear which was incredible), the work that went into every aspect from the amazing score to the locations and everything in between, it’s all so admirable. Sure, there are lots of homages to other movies, scenes that felt very similar to other older Westerns and so on. Yet there’s too much here to find enjoyable, too many well designed and filmed sequences to say The Revenant is anything but excellent. If anything, I wish they’d have stuck closest to the true story because that alone makes for a great story. For all his realism, Iñárritu doesn’t seem to worry about the discrepancies between the real events and this semi-Hollywooded version.
Nevertheless, see this in theatre, don’t wait until it’s out on VOD or Blu ray. This first and foremost needs to be watched on a massive screen. Take it in. A great movie.
Martyrs. 2008. Directed & Written by Pascal Laugier.
Starring Morjana Alaoui, Mylène Jampanoï, Catherine Bégin, Robert Toupin, Patricia Tulasne, Juliette Gosselin, Xavier Dolan, Louise Boisvert, and Jean-Marie Moncelet. Canal+.
Rated R. 99 minutes.
Martyrs is most definitely a bloody, gory, savage film from beginning to end. Of course those bits alternate, as well as the fact Pascal Laugier builds up tension very nicely at so many points. But there’s no doubt about the savagery contained within this horror movie.
There have been many gory movies in the history of horror film. From Herschell Gordon Lewis’s Blood Feast and Wizard of Gore, among others, to stuff like Saw, then classic horror such as many of Fulci’s films and Dead Alive from Peter Jackson. So there are many ways in which gore can play a part in a horror movie. It can either be so-called “torture porn” (those who’ve read my reviews before know my stance on this dumb label; I only use it for ease), or it can serve a purpose of some sort. What I’m saying is that gore need not be useless, just some element thrown in to make a horror more scary, more effective. It can be used as a means to an end, rather than an end in and of itself.
To me, Martyrs is one of those films with all the blood and gore to satisfy even the most desensitized horror hounds, but even further it has heart, character, and a ton of interesting, complex story to boot. Laugier has a masterpiece of horror here and I think that the writing helps to elevate this from simply another gore picture, to a profound horror which leaves its visceral, bloody mark on the viewer long after the credits stop rolling.
The movie starts with a quick scene of a young Lucie running in a tanktop and underwear down the street, screaming for help. She’s brought to an orphanage where she comes to bond with a girl named Anna.
Years later, grown up Lucie (Mylène Jampanoï) goes back to the little house from which she’d escaped years earlier, running away bloodied and in a frenzy, then kills the mother, father, and the kids inside. Calling Anna (Morjana Alaoui), the two women then begin to try and pick up the pieces. Only Lucie seems to be having trouble with something inside the house. After the unthinkable happens, Anna is left to try and figure out how to proceed from then on. Only, the house hides more secrets, things Anna couldn’t possibly anticipate. As she goes down into the basement, discovering what amounts to a whole complex underneath its foundation, things are revealed which will shake her world and her beliefs forever.
Watching this again for the dozenth time or so now, I forgot how awesome the music was during the moments with the ‘thing’, as it first encounters Lucie (Mylène Jampanoï). It has this almost heavy metal, ominous, pounding rhythm. Very intense. Then the rest of the film there’s also more nicely composed score. Alex & Willie Cortés do the music in this film. They also did music for an interesting independent film called Eden Log, also worth checking out. This was the first time I’d noticed any of their work, and other than the aforementioned film I haven’t seen anything else with which they’ve been involved. Doesn’t matter; their work here speaks for itself. I thought it worked well with so many of the tense scenes. A good bit of music helps to increase the mood, which Laugier helps set through dreary atmosphere and even a bit of the unexpected in there, too.
For the first half an hour when I saw Martyrs initially, I had no real clue what was going on. While I knew roughly that something obviously happened between Lucie and the family she slaughters, when the ‘thing’, the terrifying and hideous woman first showed up I couldn’t figure out what the hell was beginning to come out.
We get bits and pieces, slowly, then finally the plot starts to filter out. This is ultimately the greatest part about the film. Laugier puts the gore together with an innovative, refreshing story, and this makes the entire gorefest so much more worth it for the thoughtfulness on Laugier’s part.
And in the meantime, the gore and the effects are incredible! The first woman, the ‘thing’, looks out of this world. As if her outer layer of skin had literally been peeled off. I mean, kudos for that. Then comes the woman whom Anna later finds in the basement; when she’s trying to take the metal blinder thing off the woman’s skull, it actually made me cringe once or twice. I’ve seen a ton and that still got to me. Gnarly!
Perfect work in terms of special makeup effects. I have to mention Benoît Lestang – other work includes: The City of Lost Children, Brotherhood of the Wolf, and Amen. Then there’s also Adrien Morot whose credits range from Alejandro González Iñárritu’s upcoming film The Revenant, to Noah, X-Men: Days of Future Past, to smaller work on indies like Rhymes for Young Ghouls and Canadian television series Durham County starring Hugh Dillon. In Martyrs, these two artists come together to make some truly effective, disturbing, and nasty work. Wonderfully macabre business!
I don’t think there’s any possible way two actresses other than Morjana Alaoui and Mylène Jampanoï who could’ve done a better job with these two characters. There’s a true, evident connection between the two women. Even though there’s not a particularly massive amount of character development, nor do we get to know either of the women overly well, the deepened relationship between Anna and Lucie is clear, as they’re both there for one another. Particularly the fact Anna obviously loves Lucie, maybe more than just a friend. Yet either way, she did so much for Lucie, to try and help her get past whatever it was that happened to her as a young girl in that awful house. So with a small amount of time, Laugier is able to setup a perfectly believable and emotional relationship between the two women while not having to focus too directly on any expository dialogue, or even flashbacks of any sort.
This leads to another aspect I loved – the backstory for what is going on in the house. There’s so much more going on than I’d ever imagined from the start of the story. Once things kick in, as Anna is left behind following Lucie’s tragic death, they really take hold of the jugular.
After a while, the story comes out that these people were a part of some larger, obviously heavily funded, operation in which people were essentially being groomed into martyrdom. This is martyr in the sense of being “witness”, or bearing witness; in this film, it is bearing witness to what lies beyond death in the afterlife. Like a sick type of experiment – well, not like, that’s exactly what it is: an experiment. They take humans – especially girls apparently because they’re even more resistant to the pain overall; tougher and built for martyrdom – then they subject the human body to everything, to and beyond the limits of what a person can handle. I think I found all the pictures of the previous martyrs especially chilling! First, we see them almost meaninglessly as Anna walks through the newly discovered, sterile-like environment in the basement. Then later on, it’s all explained, and the gorefest which preceded everything begins to truly mean something.
Now, whether or not you think that something is a load of crap or not, that’s another story. I thought it was twisted and depraved and perfectly suitable. In a way, it subverts our expectations of horror films that get labelled stupidly as “torture porn”. We expect this is all just sick pleasures and people getting off by torturing others. Yet the deeper Anna takes us into the house and its catacombs beneath, the chambers and labs and rooms below, there seems to be more and more to this supposed torture. I thought the script was an excellently refreshing horror on Laugier’s part and it’s nice to see something with all the earmarks of a typical gory horror, which ends up being more than a sum of bleeding and dripping parts.
There are a bunch of ways you can look at the film, if you want to dig deep into as a metaphor or analogy of some sort. Whatever way you cut it, I think there’s a lot to offer in the story of Martyrs. You can look at it as ultimately the story of what lengths some people, under the guise of “faith” will go to figure out if there is anything beyond the pale of death. You can also look at this as how society, many groups in particular, heap all the weight and harshness of the world onto women; as the villainous lady in the film says herself, women are better at taking the pain, they have a higher threshold and tolerance for it, therefore they make the perfect candidates for this imposed and supposed martyrdom. We’re able to digest Laugier’s work in any number of ways, but regardless it’s stellar. I think you can take from it what you will – at face value, or something with a little more value under the skin.
This a masterpiece of horror, as I’ve said before. Absolutely 5 stars. Pascal Laugier has an incredibly twisted eye for horror and I think he brought all this forward in Martyrs. Truly great horror movie. It has everything from an interesting backstory, well-written characters, great performances, and on top of all that there is a near non-stop gore machine pumping out the wonderfully macabre and nasty makeup effects.
If you’re a horror fan, you need to see this honestly. I think if you take the time to let the plot sink in, take the ride for the first 20 minutes to half an hour, this will really get under your skin. Plus, if you watch it on Blu ray the sound and visual quality is extraordinary. Couldn’t get enough.
There’s a good deal of interesting work here that doesn’t often come along in horror anymore. One of the best modern horrors I’ve seen. Period.