Martyrs Movie Review
Written by Joel Harley
Released by Altitude Film Distribution
Directed by Kevin Goetz and Michael Goetz
Written by Pascal Laugier and Mark L. Smith
2015, 86 minutes, Rated 18 (UK)
DVD released on 4th April 2016
Troian Bellisario as Lucie
Bailey Noble as Anna
Kate Burton as Eleanor
Caitlin Carmichael as Sam
Melissa Tracy as The Creature
Romy Rosemont as Mom
Toby Huss as Fenton
“Well, I never want to see that movie again in my whole life” – My immediate, traumatised reaction to Pascal Laugier’s seminal work of French extremism, circa 2008. Rarely have I ever been so profoundly shocked and upset by a horror film as I was Martyrs, an incomparable piece of cinema rightly regarded as one of the most terrifying movies of all time, and rite of passage for any self-respecting horror fan. Of course, I did see Martyrs again (and again) in the years which followed that fateful first viewing; it is, after all, a masterpiece, and one of my favourite movies of all time.
Say, remember that time I called Martyrs incomparable? Well now we have something to directly compare it to – Martyrs, Blumhouse style! While there are many remakes I enjoy and even love (I’ll take The Hills Have Eyes remake over the original any day) there’s a reason you tend not to see too many remakes of the extreme French cinema movement, not least the fact that what makes them work is mostly their unflinching brutality and no-holds barred attitude to torture, murder and violence (particularly towards children and our four-legged friends). Not so, this American remake – in fact, if there is one word I would use to describe this version of Martyrs, it is ‘flinching.’ Holds are very much barred.
For much of the film’s first half, Kevin and Michael Goetz’s Martyrs is a fairly straight redo of the original movie, adding in an orphanage childhood for Lucie and Anna (which I liked) and making the girls more ‘traditional’, passive (read: cries all the time) horror heroines (which I did not like), while watering down absolutely everything else in-between. I had similar fears for the Oldboy remake, but at least that added in a bit of lunacy of its own, plus Samuel L. Jackson. Here, we get to see the exact same scenes from Good Martyrs all over again, but with added dilution stirred into the formula. Nobody needed to see the ultraviolence of Good Martyrs again, but the scene-for-scene approach only highlights how depressingly close to mainstream the line is drawn here. It helps even less that horror’s big, messy torture phase has been over for a while now, a boat well and truly missed by this outdated, unnecessary remake.
The film does have a few surprises of its very own though, not least the trajectory of Anna and Lucie’s journey into martyrdom. Ironically, given how safe the remake plays matters, poor Lucie gets an even crueller treatment here than she did in 2008, staying alive long enough to find herself back in the same experimental torture basement, forced to relive traumas past over and over again, without so much as a trigger warning for comfort. Anna, meanwhile, becomes the archetypal American Final Girl, sneaking around (a very French looking) farm, slaughtering her captors wholesale, as though the filmmakers decided to tack Doug’s arc from The Hills Have Eyes onto a goddamn Martyrs remake. With its action sequences and shit-you-not gunfight in the basement, the last half plays out like somebody’s spoof version nightmare of what an American version of Martyrs might look like.
Barring its early orphanage sequences and pretty Blumhouse visuals (which serve only to remind how safe the film is), there’s nothing to recommend about Martyrs. As a remake, it’s watered-down and insufferable in its cowardice. When doing its own thing, it becomes boring, stupid and clichéd. Worst of all are when the two meet, during a reshuffled version of the finale which tries to repurpose that shocking, faith-shattering revelation as a kick-ass moment for its now badass heroine, inadvertently ruining both. Having nothing to say of your own isn’t so bad (Blumhouse has largely founded a studio on empty-headed entertainment) but one should at least try to understand the sentiment if you’re going to copy someone else’s thoughts.
This remake is a brainless travesty, every bit as bad as you’d feared it would be. Not even the rumoured Olsen sister or 15 rating could have made it any worse. Even those who have never seen Martyrs are unlikely to find much to enjoy – the constant baulking from the dark heart of the material is noticeable even when you have nothing to compare it to. It’s a slightly gorier and less supernatural Blumhouse distributed tale than one might be used to, but not in any way a good one.
For the second time in a lifetime, I have walked out of a Martyrs movie hoping never to see it again in my life. This time, however, I feel entirely confident in saying that I never, ever will.