Directed by Kevin Goetz & Michael Goetz.
Starring Troian Bellisario, Bailey Noble, Kate Burton, Caitlin Carmichael, Melissa Tracy and Ivar Brogger.
Two young women become victims of a cult intent on discovering what happens after death.
Another year, another Hollywood remake of an iconic horror movie, only this time it isn’t an update of a cherished favourite from the ‘70s or ‘80s but rather an English language redux of the 2008 transgressive French masterpiece Martyrs. This approach has been done before of course, with Asian titles like Ringu and Ju-On: The Grudge getting successful remakes soon after the originals began creating a buzz but the original Martyrs stands as something of a modern classic, being as strikingly original as Hellraiser and showcasing an intense and traumatic story filled with unnerving subtleties on a level reminiscent of William Friedkin’s The Exorcist. So no pressure then…
If you’ve seen Pascal Laughier’s original film then you know what the title refers to and what the story is about, but for those not up on their new French extremity movies the film begins with a young girl named Lucie escaping from a chamber where she has obviously been subject to some sort of torture. She is placed in an orphanage and befriends another girl named Anna, the two becoming inseparable and Anna becoming Lucie’s confidant as she tells her about the monster that keeps coming for her.
Fast forward a few years and a seemingly normal family are eating breakfast one morning when Lucie (Troian Bellisario) pays them a visit, shotgun in hand. After dispatching with the father, mother and two children Lucie is joined by a shocked Anna (Bailey Noble) and tells her friend that these were the people who tortured her when she was younger. Given that the monster that Lucie talks about is in her head, Anna is sceptical of her story but then she discovers a hatch that leads down to a basement and the realisation that what Lucie has been telling her is true, and the worst is yet to come…
The initial setup for this film stays fairly faithful to the original and for the first 20 minutes or so it hits most of the same beats, although it skims over things rather than going into any great detail. Where this film really drops off, however, is once the family have been dispatched and the girls discover the basement (note – girls, plural. That should give you a hint where this is going); in the original this scene leads to one of the films greatest shock moments, when we finally realise that Lucie was right and the full extent of what she was subject to as a child is revealed on another hapless victim. In this film we are introduced to another character but without the shock value, without the sense of tragedy and without any real context so that when we do finally get the reveal of what is going on, there’s no impact or any sense of a greater danger. No, this isn’t the philosophical torture-porn-taken-to-the-extreme head trip that Laughier offered us but the safe, sanitised and watered down version that movie makers seem to think is challenging and uncompromising enough for US audiences to handle but is actually utterly devoid of anything approaching confrontational or even remotely dangerous.
Light on the gore and brutality that made the original so relentlessly uncomfortable, Martyrs does boast solid performances from its main cast, especially Troian Bellisario and Bailey Noble, but the material they are working with doesn’t allow them to get across the range of emotions that the 2008 film puts you through. The religious angle that Pascal Laughier suggested but never explored is given full reign here, even down to a mock crucifixion complete with bad CGI flames and a priest who engages with a room full of worshippers, and just doesn’t go anywhere. The introduction of the priest character and the idea of an underground cult could have been an interesting angle to explore but the writing – courtesy of Mark L. Smith, co-writer of the Oscar-winning The Revenant no less – just doesn’t want to go there, instead offering up some basic symbolism in the form of the priest and the cross but with no substance.
Overall, Martyrs 2016 is an exercise in how not to do a remake. It is devoid of any sort of style, the sense of mystery is gone as everything is laid out for you, the violence is stripped of any meaning and has none of the impact of the original, and it all feels like the filmmakers had no real investment in what they were doing, or at least completely missed the point of the original. Needless to say, this contrived mess of a film doesn’t even come close to the uncompromising nature of the far superior 2008 Martyrs, let alone supersede it, which leads one to question who this film is actually aimed at because anyone who has seen the original could only be disappointed and/or angry at what is being offered as a ‘reimagining’ (as the directors themselves have apparently put it). Of course, if you haven’t seen the original then you have no comparison or points of reference but even so, that still doesn’t make this generic and lifeless film any better as when it gets to the baffling ‘happy’ ending you’re still left with a feeling of having watched something totally pointless and, unlike the memorable original, something that won’t stay with you beyond the closing credits. A terrible remake and an extremely poor film in its own right.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ / Movie: ★