Martyrs was probably the most traumatizing film I’ve ever watched in my life. I still cannot get over it until now. It was a good movie to cap off an entire semester of watching horror films because it was the perfect example of a horror film.
I think I’ve mentioned it in one of my past journal entries that I was never a fan of movies that feature torture scenes and other gory elements. Movies like the Saw and Final Destination franchises never fail to make me paranoid after watching them. The first movie I watched from the Final Destination franchise was Final Destination 3 and I remember not wanting to go on roller coaster rides for about a year in fear of falling to my death like the characters in the film. Torture porn has been one of the emerging subgenres of horror films. For some reason, slasher films are always a hit among moviegoers and horror film fanatics.
Martyrs started off with a young girl dressed in tattered clothing running for her life. She looked like she was tortured because of the bruises on her face and body. This girl is introduced as Lucie, and she along with her only trusted friend, Anna, are the protagonists of the film.
The film was really unsettling and I didn’t know what to expect all the time. The scene that surprised me the most was when Lucie murdered the Belfond family. It is one of the scenes that still stick to me because I didn’t expect Lucie to be capable of killing the entire family, especially the children. It was so sadistic and evil. But we eventually get to know the motives behind Lucie’s action.
The film was full of fast-paced terror and violence, especially when we discover that the hidden lair under the Belfond’s house is an underground chamber where martyrs are kept alive and made to survive various methods of abuse and torture. Martyrs is full of what Linda Williams calls visual and auditory shocks and thrills. These “visceral, kinetic, and fast paced, increasingly reliant on special effects” are targeted at younger audiences who enjoy watching these. However, in her Learning to Scream article, Linda Williams mentioned that there should be ways of controlling the terror. A way of doing so would be not showing too much of the film in its promotional trailers. I think that this was what our professor wanted us to do when he told us not to watch the trailer or read up on anything about Martyrs. He wanted us to enjoy and appreciate the experience ourselves, without being spoiled with regards to its story.
The main martyr is Anna because we see her progression from the first to the last stage. Among all of the martyrs, she is one among the handful that has successfully completed all of the stages. Most of the martyrs die, and some, like Lucie and Sarah, escape. However, the one’s controlling them still have the upper hand and still manage to locate and terminate Lucie and Sarah. Anna was dragged into this mess because after knowing the truth about the martyrs and that in doing so, her life would be put at risk as well, she still decided to save Sarah, the martyr she found in the underground chamber. In relation to Carol Clover article, we consider Anna as the “final girl”. Being Lucie’s only friend, she constantly supported Lucie but she didn’t believe Lucie’s accusations about the family she murdered. However, once she discovered the truth, we see Anna’s fighter instinct, in wanting to avenge Lucie and Sarah and all of the lives of the past martyrs. By being strong and enduring all of the degradation, she managed to reach the final stage. It was satisfying to see her survive but it also made me sad because the method for survival was unthinkable and inhumane. It isn’t a procedure I want anyone to go through because it simply isn’t right.
The ending was really agonizing because I really wanted to know what Anna saw during the final stage. There was so much buildup and hype surrounding the new discovery but in the end, we never know it because the old woman whom she talked to decided to kill herself. Probably because she couldn’t handle what she found out? No one knows. And maybe it’s better that way.
I would definitely recommend the film to my friends who are also horror film fanatics. It is a movie I’ll never forget for the rest of my life.
Source: Williams, Linda (1995). “Learning to Scream.” Ed. Jancovich, M. Horror, the film reader. London: Routledge, 2002.