I’m writing this piece as an overdue apology to my friends and colleagues for lashing out in response to my viewing of the film MARTYRS. Even now, I’m choosing my words carefully, as I already know this will end with me owning up to my own hypocrisy, and if you know me, hypocrisy is the character flaw I detest the most. The film generated in me the perfect storm of revulsion, and I lashed out on Facebook in response. If I’ve offended you, I apologize. And I also want to explain myself, if you’ll allow me that measure of dignity.

Back in May, I posted a list of my favorite horror films of the 21st Century on Facebook. Lists are an easy way to be topical and stay relevant to those who follow you; click bait meant to draw attention and possibly start discussions. Most of my friends are either fellow authors or at least are fans of the genre, and posting lists of favorite horror films is a way to both celebrate our love for the  genre and to possibly give praise to those movies that may have slipped through the cracks and  deserve attention. Many friends replied to my post that I was remiss in not including the French “extreme horror” film MARTYRS. I was familiar with the movie by reputation only, and knowing that it had gained notoriety for its unapologetic violence and graphic content, I wasn’t all that keen on watching it. I feel it’s important for me to address this, because as I was growing up, the exploitation films of the 70s and the slasher pics of the 80s were always my favorite brand of movies. But the truth is that I’ve changed over the years. Our current political climate, particularly after the #MeToo movement, has forced me to examine how I understand and feel about the blatant misogyny in the movies and books I was once passionate about. More than that, becoming the father of two daughters has made me a bit hypersensitive to art in general. This is important, because it sets my drop in barometric pressure going into this movie.

In response to the flood of fellow film fans expressing their admiration for MARTYERS, I rented the American version of the film. At its core is a vigilante story of a young girl who escaped the captors who tortured her in her youth, only to return to the place she was held captive as a grownup, bringing a friend from the orphanage she was placed in. The two go on a murderous spree in the attempt to bring down the cabal of kidnappers who are torturing young girls in an underground bunker, as some kind of weird cult. The American version is very watered-down and a fair but not earth-shattering horror movie. I posted that I watched this version on Facebook, and friends replied that NO, I had NOT watched MARTYRS. The American version is shit. So I purchased the streaming version of the original, foreign version on Amazon Prime and watched it.

If you’re friends with me on Facebook, you already know I’m resolutely, unapologetically opposed to the Trump administration’s policy on immigration, particularly with the evil, Draconian tactic of taking children from  their families and locking them up in cages, in what should be openly labeled as “concentration camps” along the southern border of our country. Every day brings new horror stories of how these children are being abused and mistreated by the Department of Homeland Security, and the branch of Hitleresque boot-heels known as ICE that carry out these directives. It seems like there is no end in sight to this nightmare version of America. It nauseates me. I hate what America has become because of this climate of hate that Trump has opened. What I want you to understand is that MARTYERS was released in 2009, seven years before Trump was elected president, and eight years before Jeff Sessions and the Department of Homeland Security decided that, in order to fight the tide of refugees seeking asylum in the greatest country in the world, we needed act like a bunch of evil imbeciles and punish children in the most unethical way possible.

What you should also understand is that while watching the French version of MARTYRS, the lines blurred for me. A lot. As in, while watching this movie, I suddenly felt like a voyeur of something I knew and believed with all my heart to be wrong just to be entertained. But I was also made to feel as if life has imitated art; that somehow, humanity looked at what the authors and artists were creating, and took license in deciding that this was okay, that if people could watch movies like this and be okay with it, then maybe we’re just warped enough to accept that torturing and tormenting children is a permissible act. I sat there, watching this movie, feeling like a passive accomplice to a reality that I would never in a million years be okay with. And more than that, my friends were praising this film as being an important contribution to the genre, professing love and admiration for it.

And so I lashed out.

But I have to dig deeper still on this, if I’m to be honest.

Prior to Trump running for president and the backlash it has created, I began writing the rough draft of my last novel, THE GOAT PARADE. The book is about a Charles Manson-esque lunatic who communes with Satan, and hatches a plan that includes abducting children and using them in a sinister scheme to unleash 1000 years of darkness on earth. Much like MARTYRS (unbeknownst to me while writing), these kids end up in cages by the climax of the novel. When I was writing the work, it was entirely fictional in my mind. Who would abduct children, the most innocent of our species on earth, and torture them in real life? It sounded absurd to me when writing the book, and a part of me doubted anyone would be able to take the premise of my story seriously. But as I watched MARTYRS unfold, it put a face on my own fantasy, and the part of me that felt like a passive accomplice suddenly felt like a culpable player in what has led our society to punishing children who already live in terror and abuse. Even writing this now, I’m sickened for thinking I’ve somehow contributed to this juncture in our history.

I lashed out, and I pointed fingers at everyone but myself. I openly condemned the film and its makers. I dismissed the work as “torture porn”, which I know rankles a lot of genre writers and fans in making the unfair accusation that those who view it are voyeurs strictly fetishizing the inhumane abuse that films like this seem to glorify. I declared “disdain” toward those who recognize the film as cutting-edge horror, as I could not fathom anyone actually enjoying the movie. It was inexcusable behavior, and I apologize. But most of all, I’m mortified in my own failure to recognize that my own work can be equally rebuked for the same reasons I chose to rebuke MARTYRS. My hypocrisy is on full display in the realization that, in the effort to create that sense of horror and dread I’d want to instill in my own readers, I’ve resorted to the same levels of abomination that I’d accused others of when assaulting this movie. Life was never meant to imitate art. It’s supposed to be the other way around. Horror films, for me, have been a means of escapism. Popcorn horror, with jump-scares calculated to get your adrenaline pumping, and then leave you laughing at yourself for leaving yourself vulnerable to the darkened corners and the monster in the rubber suit with the zipper up the back. MARTYRS rose above the popcorn scare and I wasn’t prepared for it, nor was I prepared to feel guilty when it was over. And I can’t change it. I can only apologize. I should have been pointing the finger at myself.