Martyrs follows the story of two girls, Lucie and Anna. Lucie was tortured as a child and she seeks revenge from the couple who had hurt her. Anna, who took care of Lucie, when they were children is horrified by the turn of events. Lucie ends up killing herself because of the trauma caused by the couple. Anna then discovers the motive for all the tortures inflicted upon the young women. She finds herself as one of the victims in their attempts to create a Martyr.
This film was very heavy for me. It is definitely not one of those films where you can just shut down after. I was still trying to process the film hours after class. There is something just absolutely terrifying about the tortures that were done to the girls in the film because it is something that looks extremely possible an realistic.
Linda Williams describes films as a ‘rollercoaster’. The narrative isn’t flat and continuous. Films play into moments of tension and release and more moments of tension and release. This is evident in the film, Martyrs. There is already tension at the beginning of the film, with a monster attacking Lucie while they were in bed. Then, everything appears to be calm, there is a family having breakfast together, teasing each other and just spending time together. Then there is a moment of tension when Lucie arrives and shoots them with her shotgun. There is a moment of calm when Anna tries to take care of her. Then a moment of tension once again whenever Lucie tries to kill herself. This theme recurs throughout the film over and over. There is never a dull moment until the end of the film. This was especially at the end of the film, there was a sudden spike in tension when Mademoiselle shoots herself with the gun. The audience is only left with a few minutes to release tension with the film showing the calm days when Lucie and Anna were still children. However, the story itself isn’t lost with the rollercoaster of emotions of the film. Rather, the narrative became more pronounced as the points of tension heightened emotions in the audience.
Williams also mentions how the mindset of the people who watch films plays a key role. Special effects such as sound and light help in heightening points of tension in the film. I’ve never watched the film before this class and I followed Sir’s advice not to look the film up. This mindset of having no expectations whatsoever helped with how I perceived the film. And now I understand, why Sir was insistent not to ‘spoil’ the movie for ourselves. The film was more terrifying when you don’t know what to expect. Aside from this, the production effects in the film helped to amplify the horror of the film.
Many times throughout the film, I would cringe or look away at certain scenes because the scene was too much. Especially when they cut off the skin from Anna. Cherry attributes this females not liking the fact that females are usually represented as weak in horror film. I have to agree with this sentiment. Especially in a film such as Martyrs where all of the victims were female.
In my opinion one of the most hair raising scenes in the film was when Anna stopped resisting the oppression from her captors. Most especially when she stopped fighting back from the man who kept beating her up. Or perhaps it can be interpreted as that she was strong that she was able to protect herself from abuse by shutting herself down. However, in my opinion there is just something about the victimization of females in film that make Martyrs inherently terrifying to me.
In comparison to other films in class, such as Spring where the female character was portrayed as someone strong and resilient. I really liked the movie Spring in comparison to Martyrs. This is somewhat expressing the same sentiments as Cherry’s findings where women like films such as Aliens where there is a representation of a strong woman.
On the other hand, I did like how the Martyrs raises many questions about the world. There is the ethics of the film. Is it fair to torture multiple people to attain information or knowledge? For science? Even when that knowledge can quite possibly change the world. Another is that is there an afterlife? What is it like? When Mademoiselle shoots herself was it because she felt excited to see the afterlife or did she feel so hopeless that she decided to end her suffering early? These questions aren’t answered at the end of the film leaving the audience with an open ending and encourages free thinking.
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).