From the very beginning of the course, we were asked to refrain from watching, looking up any reviews or commentary on the film Martyrs. This prohibition was the main reason why I looked forward to watching this film so much. I expected to rock me to the core just as A Serbian Film did (which I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t watch again) or Eden Lake. Ever since then, I have put Martyrs in a pedestal of my very own must-watch horror movies. This instruction of refraining to spoil, or be spoiled of any of the movie’s scenes, no matter how small, draws back from Hitchcock’s Psycho. Although we are accustomed to theatre and movie etiquette, back then people had to be told not to spoil the movie. Furthermore, arriving in movie theatres had to be restricted before the screening officially starts. All these little things we now take for granted when seeing a movie actually helps authenticate the movie experience. This subconscious submission and discipline to film viewing is what helps us become more thrilled with the horrors of the movie. In Linda Williams’ “Learning to Scream” compares this phenomenon to a “sadist who expects his submissive audience to trust him to provide a devious form of pleasure… If you want me to make you scream in a new way and about these previously taboo sexual secrets, then line up patiently to receive the thrill.”
So, why was Martyrs, supposedly the best one among the line up of movies for this course, such a good horror movie? Well, the film was definitely torture porn, that does not need much discussion. However, the violence wasn’t done out of shallow taste. Rather, the film’s plot and backstory made all the gore highly methodical and significant. Don’t get me wrong, I have seen far worse gore and splatter films but this one is definitely unique and noteworthy. I know I have stated that I am a sucker for gore, but I really have to give it to this movie. I also have to say that no matter how much gore you watch, and despite building up a tolerance to the gore, you just can’t avoid watching through your fingers, somehow still horrified. This is exactly what happened to me. And this is what Williams’ writes in her essay saying that our reaction to a graphic murder scene is rooted from our involuntary and conventional response to a real-life unexpected assault. However, as we learn to expect an incoming assault, our reactions become increasingly performative.
However, as Williams’ also points out, women would find it difficult to find pleasure seeing the monster as a woman also sees herself in the monster; a kind of similarity in status in the eyes of an oppressive patriarchal society. However, as we see in real life, this argument doesn’t always hold true. I can speak for my female friends who brave the horror movie experience just as much as anyone else in my group. In Brigid Cherry’s “Refusing to Refuse to Look,” she argues that out of her study of women horror fans and audiences, women find pleasure in viewing horror through the emotional and psychological responses a movie can provide them. Suspense and tension was seen as important characteristics over shock. Invoked sexual feelings also play an important role in women’s liking for a horror movie with Vampire movies usually taking the top spot in surveys. Lastly, identification with a strong female lead, perhaps even a masculine female plays a crucial role. Going hand in hand with this is the feminine male monster that women can empathize with. So, Williams’ original argument might not paint the entire picture when she says that women refuse to look at monsters because they see a representation of themselves.
In the film, I believe refusing to look has nothing to do with a woman seeing herself in the monster she is looking at, because I think both men and women can attest to the fact the some of the images are just really hard to look at; a woman skinned alive, violent slicing of oneself, etc. I say this in all honestly when I say that only now do I truly understand the meaning behind the famous critic phrase: “it was electrifying.” Similar films that I have watched was Irreversible, Hostel and the Saw series. However, through the movie’s ingenious justification and reasoning for all the torture, the audience is placed alongside the lines of the torturers, also curious to see the results of all the pain and suffering of a human being. And one can’t talk about Martyrs without wondering “WHAT THE HECK DID SHE SEE?” But at the same time, seeing the consequences of knowing what lies beyond death when you aren’t a “martyr,” perhaps the best way is to not know. However, it still drives me crazy.
And that ladies and gentlemen is how you conclude a semester. I would definitely recommend this movie to my friends as a dare; only if they can sit through it and stomach the gore will they be rewarded an ending that will drive them insane.