The original 2008 French-language version of Martyrs, directed by Pascal Laugier, is one of the most ruthless, uncompromising and effective horrors so far this century, a true horror endurance test for even the most ardent of genre fans.
Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for this utterly futile American remake, which retains the same basic premise but doesn’t deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as what came before.
The plot follows a young woman (Troian Bellisario) and her childhood best friend (Bailey Noble) who, years after suffering unspeakable torture at the hands of a shadowy organization, seeks revenge on those who wronged them. But what starts out as a straight forward plan to seek vengeance leads them back on a path of an even worse hell than they imagined.
There are many things that made the original such a fantastic piece of modern horror filmmaking but chief among them was its willingness to go places that most other films, even from the New French Extremity wave from which it comes, would dare to go.
The trouble is that the remake bears none of that incendiary bravura, featuring toothless violence that balks at just about every opportunity to provoke or cause any sort of stir. It’s dull, bland and horribly by-the-numbers, an incalculable crime given that the original viciously spat in the face of those things.
It feels like it’s just going through the motions, hitting the same beats as the original but without any of the same bite. How do you make this story so dull and safe? It’s almost an achievement in and of itself. And even judged on its own merits, not as a redo but as its own piece of horror filmmaking, it’s shockingly mild for anyone but complete newcomers to the genre and nothing any random survival horror on Netflix couldn’t better.
Adding insult to bloody injury, the central concept of what exactly the title refers to is simultaneously glossed over in terms of what it shows – in the same way as the similarly inane Oldboy remake, it’s too afraid to kick up any sort of fuss – and monotonously over-explained in exposition. It treats the audience like utter idiots, demystifying the concept to the point where it stops being intriguing. Add to that the way it keeps hammering home the bond between the two main characters – you know, because we couldn’t quite get that on our own – and you have audience hand-holding horror cinema at its worst.
As the old saying goes; I’m not mad, I’m just disappointed… No, wait, I am mad. All the immediacy, the uniqueness, the depth of meaning and purpose; everything has been thoroughly lost in translation. There’s absolutely zero justification for its existence – nothing new added to the story, no unique way of shooting, not even a vague attempt at one-upmanship in the violence department. Just severely lacking scares, bland storytelling, dull characters and trite sentimentality. This is the very definition of a pointless remake.
Martyrs is showing as part of the Glasgow Film Festival’s FrightFest strand on Saturday February 27th. You can still book tickets here.