Readers of this blog may recall that I named Pascal Laugier’s 2008 film Martyrs as my choice for the number one horror movie of the 21st century so far. Being a noteworthy foreign language horror movie, an eventual remake was I suppose inevitable. I’ve only on rare occasions had the experience of seeing one of my favourites get the remake treatment and tend to approach them with cautious optimism knowing I’m going to, if reluctantly feel the need to watch them at some point anyway (I’ve been sitting on my copy of the Unforgiven remake for over a year now for example) but this was one when I truly feared the worst, particularly seeing that early in its production, the creators mentioned that this would be a softer, less harsh Americanisation of the story.
Well let’s start with what little positive things I can say about Martyrs 2016. While a little less brutal than the original, this at least still very much an 18-rated, serious minded horror movie, which it would need to be to do the story any justice. It also has a few atmospheric moments and is throughout bolstered by an effective score by Evan Goldman. I’m afraid that’s about it though, everything else is just a poor imitation of the original.
The general plot is the same, concerning the friendship between two girls, Lucie and Anna, the former of whom escaped being imprisoned as a child. Years later, Lucie shows up again and murders a seemingly normal couple, claiming that they are related to the group responsible for her traumatic abuse that still haunts her, then sets out to track this group down. The adult Lucie and Anna are played by Troian Bellisario and Bailey Noble who sadly deliver rather forgettable performances.
Concerning the violence, while the level of it understandably polarized many viewers of the original Martyrs, it served a purpose an added to that film’s overall power immensely. It was not simply a (and I hate using this term) “torture porn” movie, it was a harrowing, emotional gut-punch of a movie, but an immensely affecting one. Here, it is quite the opposite. The film’s final third in particular is just a torrent of unpleasant, ugly torture scenes with so little meaning communicated behind them that they just feel pointless and boring. At times it’s as if the spectacle of young women suffering was all they took from the original.
The adaptation, surprisingly credited to The Revenant co-writer Mark L. Smith and directed by Kevin and Michael Goetz (Wrecked aka Scenic Route) fluffs the pacing in the second act then just draws out the violence in the third. It retains the horrifying motivation that drives the antagonistic group but completely botches the revelation of what it actually is, to the extent that I don’t even know if it would be a spoiler to state it here (I won’t, but still). It switches a few things around too but always to its detriment, especially in its finale, where the handling of what was one of the original’s most startling moments is so badly done it’s rendered laughable.
As usual with remakes like this, I’m left wondering if horror fans unfamiliar with the original would be sufficiently impressed by the ideas to like this film, but I doubt it. This is not a Let the Right One In/Let Me In situation where people might defend this as an equally worthy re-telling. This is a film that has no reason to exist; it adds nothing worthwhile to the premise, there isn’t anything that this film does that wasn’t done much better in the original and anything interesting in it is taken straight from the first. Considering how effective I found the original to be, seeing this just leaves me hoping that no horror fans watch this remake first, it’s taken a challenging, original, devastatingly powerful film and turned it into a just another unpleasant, forgettable, torture-porn fest. Avoid.