Martyrs is written and directed by Pascal Laugier. The 2008 French-Canadian drama horror film was first screened during the 2008 Cannes Film Festival at the Marché du Film. It was released to the public on September 3, 2008.
Martyrs is a movie full of twisted events. Initially, I thought it was going to be another Hostel movie wherein people abduct the innocent for trade in the black market. However, it was explicitly stated in the movie that it is not so. I could not shake the feeling of uneasiness throughout the film because I felt that anyone could just abduct you. Moreover, it felt so frustrating that helping can lead to your own trap.
Lucie is an interesting character because her personality is so strong for a woman. Given that she has been held captive and physically abused for a long time, she has recovered but permanently scarred for life. She is always accompanied by her childhood best friend, Anna. Anna has been the only support system of Lucie because she is the only one who believes her about the dead woman that she sees all the time. Lucie’s life is driven by her the fact that she wanted revenge. Anna helps her, but after the deed Lucie kills herself leaving Anna alone and scared. It was learned from the conversation of Anna and her mom that Anna was abused as well. She later then discovers her own chamber of torture.
In this movie, otherness is severely emphasized. Otherness here is not referring to the manifestation of the repressed self. It just refers to other people. The movie introduces Mademoiselle after the capture of Anna. Mademoiselle is part of a philosophical society that aims to discover the secrets of the afterlife by using martyrs. The martyrs are also human beings– particularly young women. They are sacrificed in order to see what is beyond the earthly life. These young women are abused in four stages because the society believes that it is a way of going into the transcendence. The bourgeoisie society that Mademoiselle belongs to always gets their ways. The vulnerable are used as means to their goals. They are not regarded as human beings, but as objects that are made to satisfy their needs. For example, Mademoiselle instructs her people to beat up and torture Anna because it is simply a means to what she wants.
With that, the movie, in my opinion, is great but hard to digest. The movie is great because, like any other horror film, it hooks the audience by creating a good narrative. However, it is hard to digest because of the fact that women are the ones who are sacrificed in order to fulfill a society’s selfish goal. Martyrs is like any other possession films wherein women are the target because they are deemed to be physically weak but emotionally and mentally strong. Barbara Creed even questions, “what is it about [the] woman that is shocking terrifying, horrific, abject.” Abjection is all around the film. There are urine, blood, feces, and tears that are coming out of the women’s bodies. Even the previous victims were abject. For example, Lucie is abject because she has hallucinations of a living corpse wherein it wants to hurt her. In reality, she is the only one hurting herself. Aside from abjection, homosexuality is presented in the story. There was a scene where Anna wanted to kiss Lucie. According to Benshoff, this is a “monstrous condition.” This causes disruption on how the audience would understand the storyline because all along they were presented to have a platonic relationship.
Despite the movie being hard to digest, I was hooked. I got to be detached from the victims and I was able to enjoy the role of the spectator. This horror film introduces a new concept of horror. It did not need jump scares because it leaves you disturbed after watching. Indeed, it is interesting to know what the afterlife would be like. There is a part of me where I wanted to be part of Mademoiselle’s exclusive group because I am curious about what is beyond this earthly life. I guess this is why I got frustrated with the ending. After everything… after killing and torturing a lot of young women… after making the audience empathize with Anna through her tortures… THAT WAS IT? I think that the audience deserves a better ending. That should have been the reward for sticking throughout the film. Also, I seriously thought that Anna would be properly medically attended after the “experiment.” But I think she was just left to die.
With that, I think that the film actually contradicts what martyrdom really is. I think that being martyr is a choice, and in this case, the martyrs were forced.
Benshoff, H., Carroll, N., Clover, C., Tudor, A. and Williams, L. (2002). Horror, The Film Reader. 2nd ed. New York City: Taylor & Francis Group.