Monday, January 25, 2016

Review: Martyrs (2016)

by Patrick Bromley
Yep. This is what I was expecting an American remake of Martyrs to look like.

Remaking the 2008 horror film Martyrs comes with a certain responsibility. As one of the pioneering films of the French extremism movement, it is arguably one of the most important horror movies of the last two decades. It is deeply powerful and deeply disturbing, terrifying until it turns horrifying (and I make a distinction between the two) and raises some massive philosophical questions. It is a movie that is hard to dismiss and impossible to shake. That's a lot to take on for any remake, because even if the directors in charge (in this case Kevin and Michael Goetz) opt to pull back on the violence -- and because this is an American remake, there's a good chance that's the case -- they still have to respect the thematic heft if they hope to do any justice to the title.
But nope. The only reason to this remake of Martyrs was made is for the audience that can't handle the original Martyrs. There is no shame in that -- it is one of the most relentlessly bleak and brutal horror movies ever made and I'm still not even sure where I land on it -- but to remove everything that someone might find too intense or objectionable is to defeat the purpose of Martyrs. The brutality is necessary. The ugliness is the point. That's basically all gone in this new take, which plays like a parody of the Hollywood version. This is Bruce Willis rescuing Julia Roberts from the gas chamber and wisecracking "Traffic." This is shit.

For half its running time, the remake follows the same basic beats as the original: a young girl, Lucie, escapes from some place where she has been held prisoner for unknown reasons and winds up in an orphanage, where she befriends Anna and the two become sisters for life. Cut to 10 years later: Lucie (now played by Bailey Noble) returns to the house where she believes she was imprisoned and murders the family living there, then calls Anna (Troian Bellisario) to help her clean up. Lucie is haunted by what she believes is a monster trying to kill her, leading her to hurt herself.
All of this stuff is almost beat for beat out of Pascal Laugier's movie. It's in the second half, when Anna makes a discovery inside the house, that the American Martyrs takes a turn towards being its own thing, which is something laughably worse. In this version, characters articulate every bit of subtext. They run around with guns and utter one-liners. One of the most disturbing characters ever committed to film has been rewritten as a cute pre-teen girl. People live that didn't the first time around. It removes everything that was visceral and haunting about the first movie, trying to be more palatable and commercial but diluting the impact until it is nonexistent. Where once a character was skinned alive, now someone appears to have some scratches. And they are incurred off camera, because that's more powerful.

Again, I'm not making the case for showing graphic gore. I do not enjoy those sequences in the original Martyrs, but they go a long way towards making the film what it is. Laugier's refusal to flinch or look away from the nightmares being depicted are essential to the film's themes, which are explicitly about suffering in the name of something greater. And it is possible to remove all of a movie's subtext and still create an entertaining remake -- just look at Zack Snyder's Dawn of the Dead -- but Martyrs doesn't make the cut. It's technically well made, with some beautiful shots and generally good photography and editing, but all of that is in the service of something superficial. Rather than truly upset us, this is a movie that would rather reassure us with messages about the value of friendship and come as close to a happy ending as a remake of Martyrs will allow.
The truth is that even if the original Martyrs never existed, I still don't think this new Martyrs would be very good. It's not bad only in relation to the first film. It's just that it's even worse in relation to the first film. It exists as a curiosity for those who saw the original: "How are they going to remake Martyrs for American audiences?" The answer is "not very well." Like so many horror remakes of the 2000s, this one will be forgotten six months from now and only the original will remain. That's as it should be.


  1. Very interesting comments about gore in films, Bob Murawsi talking about Cannibal Holocaust said he did not believe in censorship, its a funny one! I just bought the Full Bluray Box set of all the Saw movies because of your comments on the podcast, but when looking at different releases I noticed there are Theatrical releases of these films, then Unrated versions, the Blurays are all unrated but some Versions on Dvd also have longer Directors cuts, 9 mins longer on one film, Do they put in the gore even though they know they will take it out for different versions? Has gore become a marketing tool for selling products? Im now conflicted because I own the Unrated films in HD but on Dvd there are longer Directors cuts?
    Maybe growing up in the 80s in the Video Nasties "Era" has permanently scarred me and I always feel annoyed and like im missing something, I Don't enjoy the Gore in Martyr's but it is part of the film and it needs to be there, our friend Elric at Killerpov says "The gore is like rhe punchline to a joke, without it the scene fails" Thanks for the Review, it was what I expected it to be also...

    Do I need to own the Saw films Directors cuts or am I good with unrateds?

  2. I have problems with the original Martyrs, namely that I think the film thinks it is far more profound than I think it is. But at least the original had the strength of it's convictions, this remake sounds terrible, Martyrs-'lite' destroys the whole point of the film. Thanks for the review, I will avoid it.

  3. I have nothing to add that you didn't cover in your review. The remake was pointless dreck and insulting. But...Margo Litzenberger!