In the grand scheme of “why the f@ck are they remaking this movie,” Martyrs is yet another ill-advised, haplessly crafted Americanization (like we needed another). And no, I’m not just saying that as a disgruntled horror fan who’s fed up with a genre focused on “revamping” foreign hits. Why stretch for originality when you can piggyback off the inherent hype surrounding already famed titles, in this case, Pascal Laugier’s French extremest film Martyrs. Right? Laugier’s film goes for broke, and drags audiences through hell to do so, but this Blumhouse Tilt production is exactly what you’re expecting – a cut-rate competitor that should never be watched in place of the original.
Directed by Kevin and Michael Goetz, nothing deviates from Laugier’s original story until Lucy (Troian Bellisario), a girl who is still struggling with scarring memories of child abuse, attempts to rid herself of lingering paranoias through suicide. This is after she murders a seemingly innocent family, claiming they were the ones responsible for her torture, and calls her friend Anna (Bailey Noble) for backup. Anna has been there for Lucy since childhood, and calms Lucy down in the face of her proverbial demons, yet can’t help but think her friend has finally gone too far. She goes to call 911, but balks before sealing Lucy’s fate. It’s not soon after that a fleet cars appear and Lucy’s paranoias are proven true, as the duo find themselves right back in captivity. Ah, the futility of life…
So, right off the bat, fans of Martyrs will notice a key difference – Lucy lives on to be recaptured. This is just one of the many ways that Mark L. Smith’s screenplay tones down Laugier’s nihilistic tendencies for American audiences, and effectively renders the story utterly timid. It’s also easy to miss why Lucy’s demon pursues her so, which stresses a focus on all the wrong storytelling aspects. We’re just supposed to appreciate a sweet orphanage friendship that blossoms into Anna being an accomplice to murder, without investment or reason (which, in all fairness, hinders the original as well). But, in setting up the events to come, far too much hope is left for audiences to believe, which doesn’t pack the same punch as Lucy ending the torment herself.
Here’s a comparison for you horror lovers out there: Martyrs (2015) is to Martyrs (2008), as Quarantine is to [REC]. Everything is downplayed, from shoddy CGI gun wounds to quick cutaways, and you better believe that includes the Goetz’s clothed, cop-out finale. A moment that should be the film’s pièce de résistance earns a mere single shot of squeamish flaying, laughably paling in comparison to Laugier’s horrifying body husking. Why attempt to recreate the same atrocity on a lesser scale when audiences can go watch the scene be executed more savagely somewhere else? Remakes should only be attempted if you plan on bringing something new to the game – something Martyrs doesn’t bother with.
That’s not to take anything away from Troian Bellisario or Bailey Noble. Bellisario digs into a nasty inner psyche that’s tainted by abuse, and the manifestation of those feelings sparks a brutal tussle between physical and emotional demons. Noble stays by her side as a vulnerable ally, but loses credibility when her weaker stature is able to endure wounds that force a “final girl” manifestation. Mentally tough I can believe, but physically resilient after being shot and stabbed? Nice try.
Besides these two leading ladies, no other character surpasses being a genre stereotype, which is most unfortunate for Kate Burton, who is tasked with playing a dignified cult. Sadly, her presence doesn’t exactly captivate as Laugier’s Mademoiselle (Catherine Bégin) once did, only making us reminisce of better times.
While minimal creative liberties are taken, Martyrs is a remake that doesn’t warrant its own existence. Slashed-price horror filmmaking hopes to bank off a larger-than-life name, underwhelming audiences with each electric jolt. Laugier’s film is connected to the beginning of foreign horror’s French Extremist movement, while the Goetz’s film is just an unfortunate byproduct of deflated budgeting and pointless copycatting. Movies need to be bold, brilliant and brave – not recycled ideas with barely-noticeable rewrites.
Yet, in fairness to the film, it should be rated alone, and not against a far more successful version. Fair is fair.
As it stands, even without Laugier’s overseas equivalent, Martyrs is a strange mix between mundane haunts and retrained torture-porn ethics, floating in a purgatory that doesn’t explore either realm extensively. Performances range from heightened fury to robotic regurgitations of dialogue, direction is that of a simply-plotted exercise, and an otherwise intriguing exploration of holy topics finds itself lost amongst lackluster dramatics. Simply put, this is the worst-case scenario for a $1 million gamble that Daniel Stamm, who was originally supposed to direct, walked away from – and can you blame him?
IN THEATERS & DIGITAL HD: January 22, 2016
VOD, DVD, BLU-RAY RELEASE DATE: February 2, 2016
Martyrs is the exact movie we feared it'd be - a forgettable remake of a far more prolific foreign success story.