Movie Review: Martyrs (2016)
Directors: Kevin Goetz, Michael Goetz
Writer: Mark L. Smith
Stars: Troian Bellisario, Caitlin Carmichael, Kate Burton
SPOILER ALERT: I WILL BE SPEAKING FREELY OF EVENTS THAT TAKE PLACE IN BOTH THE ORIGINAL FILM AND THE REMAKE.
As long as there are movies being made, there will be remakes for us to debate ad nauseam. Some remakes are good, well intentioned pieces of entertainment worthy of their predecessors. The Last House on the Left (1972), The Hills Have Eyes (2006) and The Fly (1986) are all excellent examples of this. Sometimes, the stars align and a remake is actually better than the original. Controversial, but in my opinion, The Thing (1982), Maniac (2013) and The Crazies (2010) are all superior to their source material simply because they correctly utilized the remake format for good and not evil. If a story is great, sometimes a movie benefits from an updated iteration and when the writers and directors have nothing but love and respect for the original film, that always shines through and we are gifted with a good, sometimes great, movie.
Somewhere amongst the millions of reasons a remake is made, is the mere fact that some genius thinks that a foreign film should be repackaged for the western audience. More often than not, this is not a good thing. Even Michael Haneke couldn’t quite replicate the same tone in Funny Games (2007) and he did a shot for shot remake of HIS OWN FILM. Funny Games (1997) is better, despite being the same film. Why? Who the hell knows, but it’s a great example that there are some intangible things that just don’t cross over well from one culture to another. Perhaps an unpopular opinion, but I do think that Americanizing foreign films is a necessary evil because it brings a wider audience to a story, and in the very best case, maybe brings a bigger audience to the original film.
The Goetz Brothers (Scenic Route) have directed a Martyrs remake written by Mark L. Smith (Vacancy and The Revenant) and they claim that it is not a remake, so much as it is a story inspired by Lucie and Anna.* Lucie and Anna are the heroines of the original film and they hold a special place in most horror fan’s hearts. Unfortunately, or fortunately for him, Pascal Laugier, writer and director of the original, is not involved in the remake. To say that this all makes for a disappointing film experience would be an understatement.
Another gross understatement would be to say that Martyrs (2008) is popular among female horror fans. Most of us LOVE it. Martyrs is a horror film that women respond to in a way that men simply cannot and we have proudly taken it under our wings and heralded it for the daring and beautiful masterpiece that it is. Sadly, the remake brings us a Lucie and Anna that are painful stereotypes of American females. It’s a bit of a slap in the face that in this “reimagining” of Lucie and Anna, they have been downgraded to women who scream too much and want to give up far too quickly. As an American woman, I’m more than mildly offended that Smith seems to see us as the kind of friends who are all too willing to bail on our bestie when she needs us the most, but I digress. The real issue with this movie, outside of the generic cinematography and score, is the screenplay.
Rather than utilizing the storytelling device of police videos to relay Lucie’s childhood story of trauma, Smith goes for the tv police procedural feel and then abruptly dumps us into the orphanage where Lucie and Anna will become friends. In a very poor decision, the relationship between the two young girls is not explored enough and feels only marginally important, whereas, in the original, we see a truly special bond develop between Lucie and Anna and it endears us to each of them on a deeper level.
As opposed to French Anna who is waiting for Lucie to call her and tell her what she discovered at the isolated farm house, American Anna has no idea what Lucie is doing and she’s not pleased to hear what Lucie has been up to. In fact, upon seeing the murder spree that our poor Lucie has just completed, American Anna is quick to tell her that she can’t help her and she actually begins to leave. Someone needs to return their half of the BFF necklace.
Some of the most harrowing scenes in the original film involve Lucie’s monster and in this new version, her monster looks kind of like a cross between a J-horror ghost and a zombie. And she’s not scary at all. Worse than that, our lack of sympathy for Lucie does not illicit the correct level of trauma when she’s being attacked by her monster. Upping the ante on not adhering to the original story, Lucie does not succeed in killing herself and, instead, ends up back in the hands of her abusers to become a martyr. Yup, Lucie and Anna both end up in the secret underground level of the house, along with multiple other women where they will all be tortured.
The brutality of the breaking of Anna’s spirit in the original film escalates slowly and you feel it deeply. With this film, it’s more like a highbrow version of Hostel. Actual tools of torture are used on the ladies and it becomes unnecessarily gruesome. By the time we get to the skinning scene, you’ve already seen drills being taken to people, electrocution and a literal burning at the stake, so seeing a graphic depiction of skinning someone alive is just overkill. But it gets worse.
Because this is ‘Merica, we simply can’t resist making this whole thing the result of a religious cult and, like any good cult, they seem to have a large revenue source. They even have a theatre where members come to watch live deaths of the women who, unfortunately , will not become martyrs and, therefore, will be unable to answer that one question: what awaits us beyond death? Lucie now knows the answer to that question, so they crucify her for all to see while a priest begins praying and preaching only to be interrupted by Anna. Anna busts in like John McClain to save the day and she even pops off a one liner before killing another character. Ugh. A “happy” ending is so gratingly American and so incredibly wrong for this movie.
So, if this remake is to fit into the category of making it available to the western audience, did it succeed? Meh. It’s just another run of the mill torture porn film that thinks it has something special to say. As far as the material being Americanized, it certainly was, but in all of the very worst and poorly stereotypical ways. Newsflash: not everyone in America is a bumbling, selfish, religious fanatic who was born knowing how to use a gun. Despite going into this viewing experience with an open mind and a legitimate hope that it would be on the same list as the other successful remakes, I’m sorry to say that this film fulfilled the wishes of all of the remake haters: it’s a painfully unnecessary viewing experience.
* The Goetz brothers did a Reddit AMA about this film and you can read it here: https://www.reddit.com/r/movies/comments/3ov13m/we_are_kevin_and_michael_goetz_the_goetz_brothers/
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