There those rare horror flicks that come out from time to time that, for reasons that can range from the depth of theme to the quality of effects, really stick in the minds of we Fellow Fans. Films that made us think, made us cringe, made us feel — that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? For a horror movie to really get a grip under your skin and make you feel something? Of course, that’s a small percentage of the genre films that come grinding out of the mill year after year, but when one of those hits the bricks, it’s a big deal. One film that fits those criteria of late is Pascal Laugier’s 2008 film Martyrs; praised for it’s unflinching portrayal of violence and pain yet reflecting it all back with a thoughtful and provocative story, Martyrs is largely revered by many horror fans as the best horror film of the 21st century, if not one of the greatest of all time.*
Thus, when news broke that Martyrs, after only seven years, was to be the next big European horror film to get the American “re-imagining” treatment (in this case from directors Kevin and Michael Goetz), reactions were…eh…shall we say, not warm. Remakes in general are often frowned upon by movie fans, horror and otherwise, and remakes of what are considered to be classics are often crucified (yes, Gus Van Sant, we’re talking about you ). Still, I’m one of those that, although typically not a fan of remakes, still figures that they have their place — I’ve honestly seen some that I really enjoyed, if sometimes grudgingly — and hey; if I don’t like it, I always remember that the original film isn’t going anywhere.
So, I sat down to check out the Goetz brothers vision of Martyrs…
We begin with a young girl, Lucie, escaping from an industrial-looking complex where she’s obviously underwent unspeakable treatment; however, when police return, they find nothing but an empty warehouse, with no trace of any wrongdoing. Finding no family for the girl, authorities place her in an orphanage where another young girl, Anna, eventually befriends the understandably introverted child.
As they grow together, Anna becomes the sole confidant of Lucie, and is witness to the night terrors that grip her — although she’s never really sure if Lucie’s visions are real or imagined. Once out in the world, Lucie makes it her ambition to find those people who tortured her so…and when she does, hers and Anna’s lives will be forever altered.
Yeah, I know…that’s basically paraphrasing my summary of the original, but hear me out, I have two reasons for this. One, both movies DO tell the same story, more or less…and two, I don’t want to give any spoilers here for either film. Essentially, I’m setting myself up the burden of doing a spoiler-free review of remake of a film that I’ve already reviewed as spoiler-free as I could — sheesh. That said, let me go ahead and throw out that this remake, while starting out as an almost carbon-copy of the 2008 film, diverges from the original at about the halfway point, going in a similar direction but with very different circumstances.
I could sit here and type out a comparison between this film and the original, but that’s not really a review, now is it? Such a diatribe isn’t really fair to the film, and besides, plenty of others will (and already have, in some cases) spent a lot of bandwidth cataloging the differences between the original and this remake. Instead, I’ll just give a review of this film, with a little of my own humble opinion at the end.
The film follows the original in its setup, and does what I thought was a good job establishing the relationship of the two leads to a point. Once the action starts (and it starts early), things quickly descend into a cacophony of madness, but there’s a through-line of story that quickly asserts itself. Once the truth comes to light, the pieces fall into place in a satisfactory manner, and the ending, while problematic, isn’t too far-fetched. Technically, the film looks much, much better than it’s budget should have allowed, and I give the filmmakers props for this; the setups, lighting, and angles move the narrative along nicely. The performances of the two leads, Troian Bellasario as Lucie and Bailey Noble as Anna, are well-done and convincing, and I found their trials and tribulations harrowing. The effects, while not heavy, were convincing, and there’s plenty of blood to be had and scenes of torment and suffering that are somewhat wrenching. So…overall, it’s not a bad entry into the genre — it’s a different take on the original, and still carries enough of the idea to be something different from what you expect from a horror film.
Therein, however, lies the problem, at least for us Fellow Fans — we’ve all seen the original, experienced it…and are marked by it. No remake is ever going to be good enough — will ever challenge us, as the 2008 film did — and it’s really unrealistic and unfair for us to hold a remake to those standards. True, the elements that gave the original so much bite had to be excised or at best seriously diluted for a typical Western audience to accept it, and as a consequence, that sledgehammer-to-the-gut impact, creep-up-in-your-soul nuance, and screw-with-your-head subtext that the French film boasts is largely absent here. That, however, is just the way of things, not the fault of the cast and crew, who I feel honestly tried to bring something of the original’s potency to a new audience.
In objective fairness, I don’t find this remake a bad film — I give the Goetz’s serious credit for having the balls to even try to redo such a film — and if you’re someone who’s never seen the original, I’d say definitely give it a watch. For you, it will present an original take on the genre with some nice work behind the camera, some really good acting performances, a story with enough twists to keep you interested, and a submerged theme that just might get you thinking beyond the bounds of the film.
As for those of us that have seen the original — well folks, what can I tell ya? This ain’t it. I know that I still find myself wrestling with what Laugier’s film left in my mind, and that kind of effect is just not something easily duplicated. If you’re dead-set against this (or any, for that matter) remake, then seriously, do yourself a favor and give it a pass — but if you’re the type that can give a remake a shot to stand on it’s own legs without expecting it to be better than or the same as the original…
…well, I’ve seen a hell of a lot worse remakes.
Two-fifths of a nickel.
* You can check out my review of the original Martyrs here, should you be so inclined. 🙂
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