Martyrs: Of Screams and Refusing to Look Away

I was just scrolling through my newsfeed in FaceBook when I saw a Buzzfeed article entitled “19 Underrated Horror Movies You Need To Watch ASAP”, part of the list are The Orphanage (2007), A Tale of Two Sisters (2003), and Martyrs (2008). I have already watched The Orphanage and The Tale of Two Sisters where both movies are not in the English Language and are the kind of movies that are brilliant and actually scary where you want to look away but you do not want to look away. Despite actually not screaming from terror because I do not scare easily, these movies actually keep their audience at the edge of their seats. The two movies, however, make my heart race and my mind would anticipate the next move as to not scream. The 2008 horror film Martyrs, a French film directed by Pascal Laugier is a great addition to these two brilliant films.

Linda William’s article, “Learning to Scream”, analyzes fear induced by watching a horror film and how it is shown by feminine and masculine viewers using the iconic 1960 Hitchcock horror film, Psycho.

The universality of horror is affecting the audience’s emotions to produce a kind of fear that is hard to keep in and the only way to stay sane is to let it out by screaming; in short, a horror film needs emotional impact. This is what made Psycho, one of the greatest horror films of all time and possibly what modern horror films aspire to achieve, and Alfred Hitchcock, the director of Psycho and has been known as ‘The Master of Suspense”, such a worldwide success.

It is no secret that the film made everyone in the audience scream, most notably in the iconic shower scene. Director Hitchcock has said that is one “designed a picture correctly in terms of its emotional impact, the Japanese audience would scream at the same time as the Indian audience” (p.168), noting on the universal effect of fear.

As such, fear chooses no certain gender to stick itself upon. Williams states that when “Mrs. Bates” in the film Psycho has destabilized gender roles because the twist in the film is that the real Mrs. Bates has been dead for a long time so that means Norman Bates, the disturbed owner-manager of the Bates Motel, has been dressing up as Mrs. Bates and killing people due to his dissociative identity disorder. This destabilization of gender roles happen in both the theater and on screen, and gender-fixed reactions such as females towering in terror (feminine) and males protecting the scared female (masculine) have been undermined because both feel scared. A masculine form of behavior in the face of terror, is forced and staged which makes it clearer that the “femininity” is creeping in this “macho” facade. While the stereotypical behavior of women to cringe and cower away seems very much “feminine”, one may look at this in a way that these women refuse to look at the female victims (as they are usually the first victims of the monster) to fall prey to a male monstrosity, making it an act of resistance. Additionally, it teaches the female audience how to look at fear in the eye, a way that is masculine in behavior.

This is how I have always looked at horror cinema ever since I started watching horror films, and this is how I watched Martyrs. A lot of its scenes are cringe-worthy and in the Buzzfeed article it included “WARNING: This film has been described as incredibly gruesome and includes possibly one of the hardest scenes to watch in history.” so it is understandable that the audience will refuse to look.

Brigid Cherry’s article, “Refusing to Refuse to Look: Female Viewers of the Horror Film” talks about how female viewers sympathize or empathize with the monster in the movie due to the fascination of some similarities in childhood stories such as dark origins of fairytales and this causes the female views refusing to refuse to look. I believe Cherry’s statement that “Refusing to refuse to look is, for such viewers, an act of affinity with the monster” (p. 177) because I never looked away even when Lucie (Mylène Jampanoï), the protagonist of the first thirty (30) minutes of the movie, killed a family and was being chased and tortured by this monstrous creature in a form of a deformed and scarred girl. Later on, the movie reveals that this girl is just a psychological manifestation of Lucie’s guilt for leaving a tortured woman behind when she escaped the place where she was also tortured. This shows that Lucie is a monstrous feminine for the family she killed as well as herself.

As a female viewer, I sympathize with Lucie despite her being the monster because she was tortured as a child and the people who did that to her are leading normal lives and not paying for the monstrous act they have done to Lucie and the others they have tortured. After Lucie committed suicide, the focus of the movie shifted to Anna (Morjana Alaoui), the first girl to befriend Lucie when she came to the orphanage as a child. The film reveals that a secret philosophical society lead my Mademoiselle, is behind all the tortures of females because they wish to uncover the secrets of the afterlife and have a strong belief that females have higher chances of becoming a “martyr”, a person that transcends to the afterworld but is still alive after experience torture in this world.

It is no secret that philosophers seek knowledge and constantly questioning life. This, however, takes it too far because of their unethical actions, but at the point of view of these philosophers this is the only way to know everything about the afterlife. This knowledge seems too much to bear, however, because Mademoiselle kills herself after Anna tells her what she has seen in this afterlife. Again, Mademoiselle, the monster who started and ordered the torture of female victims, can be an object of sympathy for seeking knowledge wherein she finally had the answer after many years yet… she ended her own life after getting it. It made me wonder, if I was a philosopher that wanted to impart my knowledge and findings in this world for the years to come, I would need something to distinguish myself from other philosophers so this topic has to be something that has never been done before much like the afterlife. Would I go to such lengths to find the answers I seek, and ultimately, ground the importance of my existence in history?

To conclude, this movie depicts the influence of Director Hitchcock to the modern horror films, most especially the emotional impact it leaves on the audience during and after the movie ended. It also shows that anything, literally anything even something as divine and religious as martyrdom, can be made an element in a horror film. As a viewer and a graduating student of COM 115.9, this movie is a great ending for my last semester in college.


Kopsky, Anna. “19 Underrated Horror Movies You Need To See ASAP.” BuzzFeed. N.p., 27 Apr. 2015. Web. 21 Apr. 2017.

Williams, Linda (1995). “Learning to Scream.” Ed. Jancovich, M. Horror, the film reader. London: Routledge, 2002. Print.

Cherry, Brigid (1999). “Refusing to Refuse to Look: Female Viewers of the Horror Film.” Ed. Jancovich, M. Horror, the film reader. London: Routledge, 2002. Print.



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