Martyrs was a difficult movie to ingest on the spot. It had scenes that were not as gruesome or effects filled than others, but it manages to make me feel uncomfortable especially in my tummy. There were several times I wanted to vomit and look away. In Brigid Cherry’s article “The Female Horror Film Audience: Viewing Pleasures and Fan Practices”, the female viewers are stereotyped to cower and “refuse to look” for the most part leaving in to the man to care and protect them. Martyr seems to hint and something different though. It shows explicit scenes of abuse and violence towards women, proving difficult to watch especially for the female audience. We are, however, presented with a character who can see past these and pull through, a sight that reverses the original fear and turns it into courage and hope. Martyrs also has a theme of a world within a world through its interesting plot twist near the end.
Cherry talks about how women are thought to react a certain way to horror film even if the male audience would and could also react very much the same way. They are thought to be afraid, and adolescent viewers are given gender roles to fit in to as they watch horror films. For “Martyrs” the movie consisted mainly of female cast members, the male ones didn’t play a part except for the torturing of Anna. Among the two main characters of this film, Anna and Lucie, one saw something but now refuses to look, while the other doesn’t see anything but “refuses to refuse to look” to help her friend. Anna being the later, and Lucie the former.
Lucie, was kept in dark place, in an abandoned complex. She was systematically tortured and kept alive in hopes of producing a Martyr. She could escape but before doing so she sees something that she shouldn’t have. She had the option to look away and run but instead approached and witnessed something that traumatized her even more to the point of delusion. Ever since then, Lucie has always wanted to “refuse to look” which can be seen every time the creature appears, she closes her eyes trying to not see the creature. Her entire mission in life was to ensure that the creature will never appear again, or at least to stop hurting her. Lucie herself, seeing what she is capable of doing is frightening for the patriarchy and quite possibly the male audience. Her slaughter fest and self-hurt episodes (creature encounters) is hard to stomach or watch for both audiences. Her strong refusal to look causes the audience themselves to refuse to look. Normally, when one would see a real Lucie, they’d turn tail and run, but Anna didn’t.
Anna stood by Lucie throughout the movie, even in her own torture scene. Anna can also be seen to have a lesbian relationship with Anna. Based on Cherry’s article this goes against the male gaze and empowers the female gaze. This empowers them because this is something they would like to see because it is a representation of the lesbian desire. This strong love of Anna may pose a threat to the male audience as the male audience, given gender roles, are supposed to be that which the scared female audience clings to for comfort. Anna, being female empowers the female audience by representing the side of them that is willing to “refuse to refuse to look”, fighting her way through the trouble, dealing with all the problems and still managing to stay by Lucie’s side even if she doubts her herself.
Anna’s refusal to refuse to look also allowed for her to dive deeper into the world in which Lucie came from. At first we’d thought that the world of horror this film presented was just on the trauma of abuse. Going back to Clute’s four movements, there was a sighting of the monster, a thickening of the world which we find out is within the head of Lucie which was the Revel, and the Aftermath. The aftermath of the first world lead to the sighting of the second. The sighting was on the real monster, the hunt for Martyrs. The actual “monster” that was used as the basis of Lucie’s monster was not a monster but a victim as well, one who has suffering far more than Lucie. She was harder to watch than anything Lucie showed us. Her body a testament to all the abuse. The most difficult to watch was when Anna removed the blinders from her. Once she can see, she immediately panics and “refuses to look”. In the ability to finally see she sees that which she doesn’t want. This was her own manifestation of her trauma.
At this point, we’ve had two female characters, both difficult to watch, refusing to look but unable to do so. Anna, the finds out who is responsible for this and why. She is subjected to the same treatment (with some differences, perhaps expecting a different result). We are then treated with scenes of violence against women. This too was hard to watch but for some reason was easier to digest. This character, throughout the entire film has refused to refuse to look, and she is still doing though. This allows her to succeed in the end and becomes a Martyr. She passes what she saw to another female character, who in her own refusal to look, took her own life.
Martyrs shows us a lot of difficult to watch scenes, from abuse and violence on women, to self-hurt (and not just any but drastic self-hurt), and lesbian love (only for those who have strong hetero sexual preferences, and the patriarchy). Three out of the four female characters given the option to look refused to look. This shows the gender stereotyped placed unto women and makes it difficult for the female audience to watch the movie. However, we are treated to a strong female character, who despite everything “refuses to refuse to look” bending the gender stereotype and also showing that women don’t need men to comfort them, they themselves can pull through and not be afraid.