by Patrick Bromley
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.
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.
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.