Life before life

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I would say this underrated French film is a film I have never heard of. Anna and Lucie are two good friends. The story follows 15 years later when Lucie tells Anna not to go to this certain house where Anna’s whole family gets slathered leaving Anna alone and going around the house in shock and in a state of trauma. Soon enough Anna discovers a hole leading to a room down the staircase.

 

I found it creepy that there was an underground laboratory with plastered photos of heavily tortured people. One was obviously burnt to death and one was heavily stabbed. Made it disturbing that these kinds of photo are posted. The room looked very equipped and up to date; obviously it was built for something advanced. The interior is steel and the house seemed pretty modern. This gave me a hint that it is maintained and even though there were no people when Anna was exploring it people work there.

 

Anna discovers a woman, heavily beaten, I could say “almost dead”, slashes and scratches all over her body, and has a metal helmet attached to the very flesh of her skull. For me, my initial thought would be to run away from the girl but Anna’s strong character approached her and held her hand. The victim appeared to be scared and traumatized but at the same time was just longing for someone’s touch. I found this scene very dwindling. The victim looked extremely beaten and I really felt bad for her. In this part of the movie, I thought everything was will turn out fine. Anna was slowly helping the victim and the victim was slowly accepting her help. It was painful to watch Anna take out the helmet with attached with nails and when she asked put her in a bathtub. I thought it was already going well until the victim runs around the house like a crazy person trying to kill herself and ended up getting shot by armed and suited men. Immediately they took Anna downstairs and tied her up to meet their perhaps “boss”. I honestly did not expect an old lady to appear. This scene made me question her role in the movie and her capabilities. Anna was brought to a room and was tied down to a chair.

 

The stages of torture began, getting beaten up; eating the same food (with no time to chew or whatsoever), shaving of her hair, and it goes on. Initially, I thought she would not survive up until the last stage when she got skinned alive. The movie in general disturbed me because of the physical abuse but, to skin her alive? I really thought she was going to die. Also gave me an idea that it was some sort of miracle already. She was able to speak and to a shock that nobody could believe. The people called up the old lady and a gathering in her house was denounced. It fascinated me that they are almost the same type of people, same age group, same taste (vintage Benz), and their fascination of the outcome. Mademoiselle announces that Anna survived Martyrdom and was able to describe “the world beyond life”.

 

I did not expect anything from this movie. I thought it was going to be a chill horror film but to my surprise it was very gory. The amount of blood, chains, whipping, and torture the girl experienced made me cringe every time. It appeared as if the girl had to endure all stages of pain and torture to satisfy an old lady’s search. Anna did and it was a very big astonishment to Mademoiselle and she ended up killing herself. I think she killed herself cause she final found a “witness” (meaning of martyr) of what she wanted to find out which is — “the world beyond life”.

 

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The End of it All

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Having watched 10 mix of wonderful and awful horror films, I have grew an appreciation for the genre. My initial thought upon enrolling in the class is to sit around and do nothing. However, my eyes were opened when it dawned to me that horror tackles issues that are relevant to society. It does that because it is able to do so. From Deadgirl to Evil Dead, we see different issues that were tackled.

Martyrs is a French-Canadian horror film directed  by Pascal Laugier released in the year 2008. The film is about the search for transcendence using any resource and method possible. Torture is effectively depicted in it, even raising the argument that it is in fact torture porn.

Even from the opening scene of the film, Martyrs was no doubt a horror film. It starts off with a child scared of a monster which still haunts her till this present day. Lucie at present day kills a family because of her dilusional state. It was later revealed that Lucie was abused by an organization hell bent on trying to find what is there after life. She was tortured in the hopes that she transcends into life after death. Along with Anna, Lucie’s confidant, they try to hide from the entity that attacks Lucie from time to time. Before ultimately killing herself, Lucie is seen struggling against the monster on her point of view. However, Anna sees otherwise as she only sees Lucie attacking herself.

Reeling from the lost of Lucie, Anna was caught in the house by the very same organization that tortured her friend. She speaks with Mademoiselle about the aim of the organization. She was told that its ultimate goal is to achieve transcendence. Now, Anna was put under the same torture as all the girls before her. It was said that Anna was the only girl that was able to advance into the “final stage”. And when she reached transcendence, Mademoiselle eagerly arrives and listens to what she has to say. However, when Mademoiselle was about to speak of what she heard, she kills herself and commands her followers to keep doubting.

In the film, we see depiction of torture numerous times. When the film initially went out, it was categorized as torture porn. The term coined around the release of Hostel and consequently thrown around for movies that feature gruesome torture. The term implies that the movie that would appeal to the sadistic desires of a person. The term caught on and critics began slapping it on any film that had any torture in it such as the film Saw. It is easy to categorize the film as a torture porn however, it transcends that. Underneath all the horrible things that happened, the plot reveals a strong message. Despite being stripped of her identity, Anna in the end was the one in power. She could easily said anything and the organization would’ve believed it.

In Linda William’s article, she mentions that “The terrified female victim is a cliché on horror cinema.” Evidently, we see that in the movies previously watched in class. However, not all the movies presented depicted girls as victims. Most of the films watched in class send out a strong feministic message that girls can handle themselves. Martyrs led us to believe that Anna was hopeless in her state of torture. Though, I beg to differ. I inferred my observation from the subsequent reaction of Mademoiselle following her encounter with Anna. What would have caused her to commit suicide? Was there nothing after we die? Ultimately, the message it sends the viewer is Anna was still in control.

To conclude, Martyrs is definitely a gut wrenching film that sends your appetite in the trash. It delivers in its promise to spread horror into its audience. The scene I particularly liked was when Anna was tortured and no dialogue was spoken. The film was able to speak through its actions and not words. Soon after Anna accepted her fate, she was silent. Most of the time, we try to understand words like in Pontypool however, silence delivers an equal, if not more powerful message. Lastly, the film was something I was able to appreciate due to the weeks of building my sensibility of the horror genre. I would have not appreciated it, if the movie was shown on an earlier week. As a whole, the course seems to use the genre to speak of something bigger than itself that is more often overlooked in movies of the other genre.

Martyrs

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What comes after death? To answer this question was mainly the goal of what seemed like a cult that took girls from their homes, locked them in a basement and tortured them. Martyrs, out of all the films I have watched so far, is the most horrifying film I have ever seen. This torture horror made it feel all too real. It was too dark and too disturbing that sitting through the film made me feel like I needed a shower after. Every single scene made my skin crawl and made me sick to my stomach. It is a film that is definitely difficult to watch. The hopeless and nihilistic tone of the film discourages the viewers to enjoy its painful scenes. It is gory and shocking but, honestly speaking, it is also not easy to look away.

As a viewer, it was not hard to identify with Anna who appears to be the only compassionate character in the film – like Anna, you just wanted to stop the brutality. Because the film successfully conveys to the audience the pain that each of the characters feel in the film, we, as the audience find ourselves wincing for the tortured girls. In this film where it is generally filled with torture, savagery and horror, there is now a shock from the moment when an act of tenderness, or an offer of a kind human contact is shown. With the film mainly dominated by brutal scenes, the rare incident of caring for in the film surprises the viewers, which is rather sad and disturbing.

What is horrific and terrifying in this film is not the mere act of torture towards innocent girls, but the torturers belief that what they are doing is right – that they are merely experimenters who are bound to uncovering something extremely wonderful. And as viewers, we also find ourselves desperate to know what the torturers will uncover. At the same time, it is horrifying because the events, although horrible, are taken and portrayed into an utterly believable extremes. Even though we find the film difficult and too painful to watch, there is some sort of an act of enduring sitting through it and suffering as we watch it to satisfy our curiosity as to what exactly is it that the Martyrs see after death. Though we pity, and feel for the tortured, we cannot deny that we, ourselves, also want to know the answer, to which we find ourselves frustrated after the ending did not really reveal anything as to what the Martyr saw.

 

Transcendence.

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What happens to us after we die? Is it true that our souls go to Heaven to meet our Lord God? Or is there even a God to believe in in the first place? These are questions that have probably been asked by humanity for decades and decades, yet, they still seem to have no answer. Many branches of Philosophy and Theology say that the notion of God is incomprehensible, that we may never really understand it until the day that we’re actually face to face with Him, if there is even a Him to understand. Interestingly, the same goes for the genre of horror. There seems to be no true definition of what horror actually is, given the plethora of movies that exist. Many scholars and critics argue that this genre cannot simply be constituted to just a particular set of characteristics (eg. the slasher, the monster, the zombie, or simply the presence of blood in a film), that horror goes beyond what people believe to be its conventions. These are two different ideologies that the film Martyrs (dir. Pascal Laugier, 2008) tries to reconcile.

So many questions filled my head in the beginning of the movie, especially as to the direction where the film was headed. It seemed to me as if it was a typical revenge-movie at first, with some curiosities present in my head as to what really happened to Lucie. It got me thinking really hard whether everything was just a figment of her imagination, or if things were actually there. As the movie played on, it was quite difficult for me to grasp what the true concept or narrative it was heading to, but ultimately, I was pleasantly surprised as the third act arrived, when the concept of their pursuit of martyrs were introduced. I did not realize how layered the film would be in the beginning, but having had seen it as a whole, I could say that it’s one of the more moving, even philosophical horror films that I watched.

That’s the thing about horror film. You don’t really know what to expect, but the whole experience [more often than not] pays off as the credits roll. For all the misconceptions there are about how low-brow, petty, or blatantly violent the horror genre is, there are movies like this that show how nuanced and calculated it can be. Beyond the gore, there’s something else that certainly makes you want to crave for more. This is supported by the two readings, Learning to Scream by Linda Williams, and Refusing to Refuse to Look: Female Viewers of the Horror Film by Bridgit Cherry.

In Learning to Scream, it is revealed how films in the horror genre are subject their audiences in a certain kind of procedure and discipline to be able to elicit reactions of terror from them. This idea had its origins in the Alfred Hitchcock classic Psycho, where moviegoers started the discipline of entering and leaving the theater on time, which led to the whole experience of watching horror an attraction that gives out thrills and screams. This kind of procedure, for me, shows how meticulous auteurs of the horror genre could be in setting up their audiences to feel what they feel. This definitely applies to Martyrs, as Laugier seemingly structured the film from the typical scary fare to the more transcendental ending that leads the audience to think deeply about what happened.

And speaking of the transcendent, Refusing to Refuse to Look: Female Viewers of the Horror Film constitutes that horror is more than just a genre of film to be associated with bodily pleasures, but also of higher faculties involving quality and deeper meaning. Cherry looks into what makes a certain demographic of female audiences interested in horror, and discovers some qualities as to why they do like watching the genre. Such qualities involve high production value, art direction, representation of women as strong characters, and most importantly, the presence of thought provoking ideas. This is clearly evident in the film Martyrs as well. There is so much depth in the whole message of the film, as to why it let us watch the character Anna suffer through so much pain. It did not simply end in the gory killings, but the character’s experience opened up a higher level of discourse into the meaning of life, death and religion.

Martyrs was probably the most striking and thought provoking horror film I’ve seen to date. I have never felt as heavy watching any other horror film, most likely given the heavy subject matter. It does not only give the pleasure of seeing the craziness and absurdities common horror film, but it is a film that transcends beyond the misconceptions of what horror is – provoking so much insight and thought not just about what horror is a genre, but what we aspire for in life as we move towards our death.

References:

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).

Last Dance with the Horror

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As the last and final selection for the horror film course, I felt that this Martyrs (2008) was quite drastic and shocking. It was quite a loud and horrific was to end the semester, and I felt quite disturbed as I watched the events unfold throughout the film. Unfortunately, I had to watch this movie alone since I was abroad during the filming in class. I describe it as unfortunate merely because it was quite unpleasant to watch as it is, which was harder to keep focused for me since first I had the option to pause, and second I didn’t really have someone to share my fear reactions with.

All the scenes of torture made me feel so uneasy, and it made finishing the movie difficult to achieve as the theme was so unsettling for me personally. The way that Pascal Laguier presented the concept and scenes were successful in making the audience feel discomfort. The title of the film threw me away, because I didn’t initially read the synopsis before watching it, and I didn’t expect to see what I ended up watching throughout this French-Canadian horror drama. I do understand though the appeal that this kind of movie might have on certain people, especially those who appreciate this form of sub genre to the horror.

In Linda William’s text, “Learning to scream”, she brings up a topic on the “perverse pleasures of cinema”, which I think can actually indeed apply to this film. The vividness of her example “Psycho” was a similar effect as to how vivid this film was, and how it could haunt anyone from the audience after watching the entirety of the film (or even just a small glimpse of the torture scenes). Her line about horror fanatics or viewers of the genre rather getting that sense of thrill in a “rollercoaster sensibility of repeated tension and release, assault and escape” is something that depicts what “Martyrs” feeds the audience. The female victims, gave you a sense of urge to want to help them and relieve their pain whilst also being helpless in the process since you’re limited to being just a viewer of the horror piece of art.

Williams brings in Carol J. Clover’s concept of abject fear being “gendered female” coming from her “Men, Women and Chain Saws”. More often than not, just like in this film, it is effective to place a female as the object of the victim who is experience all types of personal horror. Watching the said gender being terrified becomes more effective is you would compare that the victims of this particular movie were to be males. “The terrified female victim is a cliché of horror cinema: both the display of sexual arousal and the display of fear are coded as quintessentially feminine”, Williams says. This is fact represented and verified as you watch the female characters play roles of victims to the torture that takes place in certain scenes in the film.

To end this course, Martyrs was definitely a way to finish with a “bang”. The scenes that were drastic were ones that I feel will stick to me; making this choice one that I probably wont forget from this horror film class. Much has evolved under the horror genre since this version of the film was made, and after this I look forward to trying out the remake 2015 version that stars an actress that I’ve grown to like due to her other thriller drama, Freeform series called Pretty Little Liars. From there, I think that I can make the proper and adequate comparisons as to the vision and the cultural difference that has been taken into consideration with the newer version of this intense horror drama.

 

Reference:

Linda Williams, “Learning to Scream”

Scared 2 death: Martyrs (2008)

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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.

Mademoiselle

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The horror film Martyrs released last 2008 was something that was shocking and surprising with its different twists and turns. This is all about a French-Canadian movie which is eye-opening and interesting when it comes to the plot and how the actors are able to execute it. In the movie it features Anna and Lucie which are the main characters. For most of the first part of the film it documents their adventures together in some horrifying and morbid scenes.

At the start of the film it has Lucie being a girl who is disturbed and all sorts of things happening to her. My insight to this is it is where the plot starts, the background of what is there to come. It gives a preview of the scenes that will follow and how the start will play an important role. When the movie is fast-forwarded into the future, Lucie aims to take revenge on the abuse that she has underwent in the past. For a young child being abused and exposed to all sorts of elements that she shouldn’t be. Lucie becomes a different person and somebody that has lost everything and only wanting revenge. She visits the home of the people that caused her to become like this and kills the whole family. At this point, I see the effect of a bad childhood and what it brings to a person like Lucie. It causes her to lose all hope and resort to violence. There was sort of a woman that was constantly controlling Lucie and following her.

Then there is the character Anna, who did not have a ghost or spirit following her unlike Lucie. The moment when Anna helps Sarah a girl who is also troubled escape. Sarah is trapped in an underground chamber, however Anna’s efforts were useless because Sarah was eventually killed in the process. This makes the film more tragic with all the things terrorizing the characters. Anna has the heart to save somebody but it all goes to waste with that. She eventually discovers that these girls being terrorized are all part of an experiment of an organization. This organization is led by Mademoiselle, a creepy old woman who wants to create the so-called “Marytrs”. They are known for torturing young women for a greater purpose. The word “Martyr” means somebody suffering or dying fighting for a particular belief. A martyr is usually a saint that is killed for his faith in God. In the film this is all similar with this young girls just wanting to live a normal life, but they are controlled by this organization just to suffer and die.

After Anna and Lucie, the last experiment of Mademoiselle would be Anna. Anna with all those acts helping people like her would be the next victim. The experiment on Anna would be successful, because it was able to reach the final stage and Mademoiselle becomes satisfied with what she saw, and eventually killing herself. We can see in the film the various themes of child-abuse and life. The organization controlling these women do not care if the children suffer. They just want to see what will happen based on their theories. Connected to this is the value of life, it is clear that they apply torture just to be able to bring out what they want from the child and don’t actually care if they die or not.

In conclusion, I can say that the film is disturbing with all those scenes and themes mention. Overall the plot of the movie was something that interested me and made me curious of various things that were happening.