I had mixed feelings about this Martyrs when I first heard about it. My gut reaction was that there was no way it would live up to the brutality and emotional impact of its French roots. How could it? The original Martyrs pulls no punches as it pulls the rug out from under the viewer’s feet. We’re introduced to characters, come to sympathize with them, and then… Well, let’s just say the movie is bleak as hell. I wondered if an American movie could be that bleak. It’s not impossible. And I’m not trying to sell American horror short. Obviously, it’s the best. I just worried that the people behind this remake might make some changes to the story in order to be more “commercially viable” or whatever. Did they? Well, keep reading and find out!
Martyrs opens with Lucie as a child escaping from a warehouse where she was bound to a chair. She runs screaming from the place in her bare feet. She makes a single friend, Anna, at the orphanage where she ends up, who remains her best (only?) friend during her time there. (she’s also haunted by an emaciated ghost girl throughout the film but i wasn’t sure where to shoehorn that info in) The police investigating her situation use Anna as a go-between since Lucie only talks to her. When they ask if she believes Lucie was tortured and held captive, Anna replies, “I don’t know.” Years later, we see Lucie as a young adult. She’s at the door of a seemingly perfect family in a perfect (isolated) cul-de-sac. And she has a shotgun. She kills (or nearly kills) everybody – adults, children, EVERYBODY. (that may seem like a spoiler, but it’s really still the setup for the story) Lucie calls Anna for help and she comes right away. She almost calls the cops but helps bury the bodies instead. She discovers a secret door leading to a secret cell block adorned with posters of mutilated women. One of the cells holds a girl. Uh oh. NOW she believes Lucie! Bad guys show up. An escape attempt fails. Things go downhill from there. Like, WAY downhill.
I’m going to try to objectively review this film as if it were made in a vacuum. (ie: not a remake) Then I’ll do a brief comparison. Here goes. Martyrs (2016) is a decent hard PG-13 type horror film. (i’m not sure what the actual rating is) It has some intense violence and it’s thematically harrowing. (and there’s plenty of blood) It has that glossy, current PG-13 horror feel (the cinematography, the dialogue, etc.) that we’ve come to expect. Which is to be expected, I guess, since this is “from the producers of The Conjuring“. But that’s not a bad thing. It’s slick and features good performances from its actors. The audience sympathizes with Lucie (it helps that we’ve seen that she’s not lying about being held captive) and we understand Anna’s drive to protect and save Lucie (and the other girl). It’s a bit unclear as to WHY Anna is so invested in protecting Lucie and covering up her murders. (this is made clear in the original) The whole idea of a secret society dedicated to finding metaphysical answers through torturing and killing girls and women is pretty terrifying too. Had I seen this without ever seeing the original, I would think it was pretty good. Not spectacular, but not bad either.
So, how does it compare to the original Martyrs? (some minor spoilers ahead, FYI) To start, I prefer the original. I’ll just get that right out of the way. Though the remake has its strengths and is pretty good on its own, the original had such a devastating effect on the viewer that it holds a special place in my heart. There was a pervasive brutality to the French production that this remake only scratches the surface of. And there are characters in the original who do not make it nearly as far as their analogs do in the remake. A fact that completely changes the Anna character’s arc. And not necessarily in a way that improves on the source material. Maybe it was changed just for change’s sake. I don’t know. But that point in the original is a pivotal plot point that helped make the film the masterpiece that it is. It was over-the-top. It was shocking. It was disturbing. It was perfect. But the remake does away with it for some reason. Furthermore, there is a ridiculous change in the climax that waters down the ultimate moments of the film. That one bit of action is the biggest sin in the remaking of this beautifully bleak story.
The Final Cut: Martyrs is a solid PG-13 style horror film with decent performances from its small cast. However, if you’re comparing it to its source material, it doesn’t quite stack up to the brutality and shocking plot twists of the original