Being a Witness to Martyrdom

The genre of horror and its films, or the good ones for that matter, evokes or tries to evoke fear in its viewers. In the movie house, one would observe how people react to horror films and they are usually screams and high-pitched ones, covering of eyes, holding one’s breath, not being able to keep still, hiding behind another person, even clutching onto things or people really hard, and many more. It differs from women and men, older and younger, or depending on the preference of the viewer. Does she or he like watching horror films or hate watching horror films?

In the article of Linda Williams entitled, “Learning to Scream”, she discusses this fear that is induced by horror films and the difference between how women and men show it. She applies this concept by using the film, Psycho, directed by Alfred Hitchcock and released in 1960. She describes horror films, and Psycho, as “rollercoaster sensibility of repeated tension and release, assault and escape”. Linda Williams mentions that though the narrative of the film is still important in horror films, it only plays second to the thrills brought about by the visual and auditory aspect and effects of these films. She discusses Alfred Hitchcock’s “special policy” that he used in order to induce fear and the full experience in the viewers of Psycho, that later on impacted the coming horror films in a way that in these films, what is important is the emotion portrayed and the emotion that would be felt by the viewers during and after watching the film.

In Brigid Cherry’s article, “Refusing to refuse to look: Female viewers of the horror film”, on the other hand, it is discussed how similarities between the monster of the horror film and the female viewers cause them to empathize with the monster. Brigid Cherry also talks about how a woman’s want to look or “refusal of refusing to look” at the specific scene or scenes of the monster is an act of affinity, natural liking, or attraction for or to it (monster).

Applying both ideas and concepts, let’s take a look at the film Martyrs. This is a French-Canadian film directed by Paul Laugier and was released in September 2008. It is a drama horror film revolving around the story of the revenge of Lucie on her oppressors and torturers in the past and later on, revolves around Anna, Lucie’s only friend, and her path to martyrdom.

In the start of the film, personally, I thought it was a paranormal film about ghosts or entities. This is the start of the “rollercoaster sensibility of repeated tension and release” Williams discusses. Scenes in the beginning were quite misleading like, the bedroom scene where Lucie sees a dead woman on the edge of her bed or the scene where Anna finds Lucie in the bathtub scared to death because of the same woman. Though, it turns out that the “ghost”, or so I thought, was a psychological problem. She was seeing the woman as a result of her extreme guilt. This leads us to how Lucie turned out that way. She was tortured by some sort of cult as an experiment to achieve and find martyrs. Martyrs, in the film, are those who witness what it is that comes after death or the afterlife. This brings Anna into the picture. Anna, on the latter half of the film, is captured and tortured as another experiment. Though, in the end, she “succeeds” and sees the afterlife and is able to tell the head of the “cult” what she witnessed. In this we see how the film showed jump scares, dramatic scenes, scenes of torture, etc. that would create this “rollercoaster” for its viewers. The fear induced by this film, moving from different lengths from being scared of a “ghost” to being scared for those who were tortured. Though, this would be seen differently by men and women.

As mentioned, Cherry discusses the female viewers of the horror film. This can be applied to Martyrs, who obvious enough only focused on women. From the two main characters, Lucie’s torturer, the head of the “cult”, the people “best” to conduct the experiment on, they were all women. Viewers of the film, specifically the women, could sympathize or even identify with Lucie, Anna, and the other tortured women as the victims in the film and how it could represent the situation women are in now wherein they are oppressed, not only by males, but also by females like them. Viewers could also identify with Mademoiselle, the head of the “cult”, as having that want for knowledge.

Overall, the film in my opinion was definitely a rollercoaster of emotions. There were times that I could not watch Anna being tortured, there were times that I was scared and could not keep still because of Lucie, and there were times that I did feel bad and wanted the tortures to stop. The film, for me, tackles a lot of interesting concepts starting from the psychological impact of torture, to the idea of martyrdom.


Linda Williams, “Learning to Scream.” Horror, The Film Reader (Routledge, 2002).

Brigid Cherry, “Refusing to refuse to look: Female viewers of the horror film.” Horror, The Film Reader (Routledge, 2002).


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