Some years ago, theaters were hit with some films from France, that is to say they were hit with some horror films from France. These films made up what was then being called the French “New Wave” of horror. Living up to their description, these films had a definite impact on moviegoers worldwide with their sudden, bloody bursts of violence. Indeed, a few of them have been since described as classics of the horror genre. Film scholars might say otherwise, but I believe that the French onslaught began in 2003 with director Alexandre Aja’s High Tension (Haute Tension). It was followed up in 2006 by Ils (Them), 2007 saw the release of Xavier Gens’ Frontiere(s), and in 2007 audiences were subjected to the horror of a film called Inside (which just might be the most ferocious horror film I’ve ever seen). Then in 2008, writer/director Pascal Laugier’ Martyrs was released, and all who saw it were stunned by it’s nihilistic tone, torrid brutality and its thought provoking final reveal. Indeed, that film made such an impression on all those who saw it that the very thought of an American remake was an impossibility.
But the good people at Blumhouse Productions had other ideas.
And so here we are, in the year 2016 and, working with a script from Mark L. Smith (who just happens to be the screenwriter behind a little film currently in release called The Revenant), directors Kevin & Michael Goetz took on the thankless task of remaking Martyrs. Amazingly enough, the film manages to remain fairly true to the structure of the original film, for awhile anyways. Troian Bellisario plays Lucy, a young woman who is having issues with her memories of abuse as a child. Early in the film, she takes it upon herself to murder an apparently all american family in their home. She does this because she believes the parents are the ones who were responsible for her torture. She then begins to kill herself, but after some thought she reaches out to her friend Anna (Bailey Noble). Anna & Lucy have been friends since childhood, and once she arrives at the house, she immediately manages to calm Lucy down. But she also knows that Lucy has just murdered four seemingly innocent people, and decides that the authorities should be notified. But a cadre of cars suddenly arrive, and it isn’t too long afterwards that Anna realizes that Lucy wasn’t imagining the horrific memories that plague her. The film then plays itself out until its sadly underwhelming finale.
Why use the word “underwhelming”? Because in all of their infinite wisdom, the creators have decided that American audiences aren’t quite ready for the more violent images that were prevalent in the original film. This decision was made despite the fact that the original is readily available on DVD/Bluray, so everyone who wants to see it, can see it. Additionally, if there’s an audience for this film, most of it is probably comprised of people who’ve already seen the original film, and are curious as to how this version fucks it all up. And fucked up it is, because Smith’s script takes pains to either shorten, or soften every scene that made Laugier’s film so wickedly memorable in the first place.
Since Lucy remains alive to be recaptured, this version of Martyrs differs immediately from the original. And since she remains alive, it’s readily apparent that Smith’s script is hellbent on softening the impact of this film when compared to the original. Her eventual suicide was a message that the original film was taking absolutely no prisoners, it was dark and about to get even darker. But since she remains alive here, the film gives the audience a glimmer of hope. If any of you have seen the original film, you well know that there is absolutely no hope to be found in it. Part of the power of Laugier’s film was that after twenty minutes or so, you realized that he wasn’t looking to craft a film with any redemptive qualities. What he wanted to do was shock the audience with images that seared themselves into your mind.
Sadly, the film makers behind this totally unnecessary remake took it upon themselves to neuter Laugier’s original vision, and pour cold water all over it so as to not offend American audiences. I find it totally disingenuous of them to tackle a remake of a film with such distinct imagery, and turn it into what they consider palatable to today’s audience. Why bother? Why bother with taking on such a thankless task if at the very least you’re not even going to try to go as balls out as the original film does? Did they think that we just couldn’t handle it anymore? They’re a bunch of lily livered, goddamned idiots for even attempting to remake Martyrs in the first place, so why should any of us be surprised that they utterly fail in bringing any of the tension, any of the true brutality that the original featured?
There are numerous cases of the film makers wimping out, but the most egregious one comes towards the end of the film, where Lucy is flayed alive. In the original, the character was flayed of all of her skin, save her face. Here in the remake, they neatly slice off a square of skin from her back. The image of the character completely devoid af her skin in the original is one that once seen, is never forgotten. Laugier’s camera lingers over it, almost as if it was a porn film he was making (Torture Porn perhaps?). Here in the remake, we don’t even see much of the area where her skin was removed at all. It’s as if the film makers just decided that it was just too horrible for us to see, but that was Laugier’s point in the original. It was indeed something too horrible to witness, but he made us watch anyway. He made us feel for her about as much as we’ve felt for a character we pitied in any film we’ve ever seen. And if you recall, just before she was flayed alive, the character was brutally beaten – and I mean brutally. As I re-watched the original the other day, I was horrified at how unremittingly brutal the entire film was. This is why it remains a vital film to this day. There are those of you who didn’t like the original film (I myself, wasn’t the biggest fan of it), but very few of us can say that we’ve forgotten about it.
The performances here are good, and both Bellisario and Noble have nothing to be ashamed of. Kate Burton plays the leader of the cult here, but her performance is downright robotic when compared to Catherine Begin in the original (The film also changes what happens to her character as well). Everyone else in the film essays their roles as well as the script let them I suppose, but the two young leads perform admirably enough under what looked like a fairly torturous shoot. The cinematography (by Sean O’ Day) is also successful in making everything look gray & grim. Ultimately, this version of Martyrs is a pale imitation of the original, but then again did I (or anyone?) expect anything more than that? Quite honestly, no. This is the neutered version of Martyrs, the version with no balls whatsoever. And in it’s desire to emulate the original, it fails completely. As a mildly unpleasant diversion, it’s just ok.
They’re calling this “The Ultimate Horror Movie”. I’d pay big money for whatever they were smoking when they decided to use that line in their advertising.
Martyrs (2 / 5)
Anchor Bay Entertainment will be releasing MARTYRS in Theaters and Digital HD on January 22nd and on VOD, Blu-Ray and DVD on February 2nd. The film stars Troian Bellisario (ABC Family’s “Pretty Little Liar,” Bailey Noble (HBO’s “True Blood,” Kate Burton (ABC”s “Scandal” and “Grey’s Anatomy“), directed by the Goetz brothers (SCENIC ROUTE) and written by Mark L. Smith (THE REVENANT).