It’s no secret that I am a big fan of 2008’s brutally gory horror ‘Martyrs’, and anybody that would listen has heard of my misgivings about its English language remake. So was I wrong to jump to such negative conclusions? In short…nah.
The film starts with the same set up as its predecessor, showing the young Lucie struggling to connect in a children’s home after a harrowing ordeal of torture that she could never fully express to her carers. Her only bond is with the sweet natured Anna who persists in winning her troubled companions trust and friendship. Cut to the ladies all grown up and you are treated to a scene for scene replica of Lucie taking fatal vengeance on the family that had held her captive many years prior. So far enjoyable, if not a little pointless, at this stage I believed that I would be getting an exact copy of the French language film, but without my poor, lazy English eyes having to strain with the effort of reading subtitles.
Then things took a turn. Changes to the plot occurred. I was intrigued with the decision to have Lucie survive her own mental anguish. She is plagued by a monster of her own guilts creation, but the skin crawling effect isn’t present in this version of the film. The twisted guilt monster has nowhere near as much malevolence here. What disappointed me with this alteration to the plot was how futile it was, Lucie gets recaptured. Along with Anna. Why? It actually steals some of the emotional punch from the story, even though I can appreciate the filmmaker wanting to put their own stamp on the film.
The explanation as to why a number of women have been captured and subjected to hellish, seemingly unending torture over what appears to be decades is kept identical. Delivered in a chillingly matter of fact way by the head of a cult, it seems that they believe that young women can reach God in their dying moments, when pushed to their limits, then return to divulge the secrets of the afterlife before passing on. Now that’s some logic that totally justifies being sadistic aresholes. It’s a shame that some very ropey CGI is used to hammer this point home in the form of a visually crappy burning at the stake.
The film goes downhill from here. The harrowing scenes of the original replaced more by implied violence, a drill bit here, and electrode there, a bit of screaming heard through walls. A real misstep is what is done with the woman who Anna finds in the basement in the original. Instead of a naked wretch, scarred from head to toe,mutilated, fragile and barely human , we get a little girl, who actually looks in surprisingly good nick considering what we are supposed to believe is happening here.
The finale is the biggest waste in the whole film. It’s supposed to the worst thing conceivable, it’s supposed to be a full skinning of a conscious women with no pain relief, it’s supposed to make you feel something. Instead, Lucie gets a patch of her back cut out. Now I’m not going to say that it wouldn’t bloody hurt, but where is the shock factor here? The lack of impact could be put down to the fact that you don’t have time to really emotionally attach to the characters.
I will say that I was somewhat relieved with two choices in the production of this remake. Firstly I had feared that the obsession, particularly in the average American horror, of sexual violence would be needlessly imposed upon the plot to help tick all of the right boxes, but fortunately this did not happen as it would really change the tone of the overall story in an unnecessary way. Secondly, the temptation to reveal what is whispered by the freshly martyred Lucie must have been overwhelming, as it is a question that lingers with the viewer, all the better for being unanswered.
This film has done nothing to dissuade me from my disdain of English language remakes. It has taken a film so beautifully sadistic and incredibly moving and packaged it in a pretty box for those who cannot be bothered to engage their brain. I cannot say that I am disappointed as that would imply that I had any hope of this being a patch on what I consider a masterpiece in extreme modern horror. All I can hope is that upon seeing this film, people may delve into its origins and discover the far superior 2008 release is out there, and maybe throw some well deserved recognition its way. If ‘Martyrs’ 2008 left a crater like impact on my psyche, then by comparison ‘Martyrs’ 2016 left a small pockmark on my psyches butt cheek. Go see the original!
Martyrs - Remake