PLOT: Seeking revenge on the people who abducted and tortured her a decade earlier, a young woman unearths some horrific secrets.
REVIEW: A few great films came out of what is apparently being called the "New French Extremity movement", but the one that seems to be the most enduringly popular, the one that gets brought up most often, is Pascal Laugier's 2008 film MARTYRS (READ THE ARROW'S REVIEW HERE). Although that film has a devoted fan base, it's not one I'm especially fond of. I have issues with the logic of it, and that final half hour or so of relentless brutality is not something I'm in a hurry to sit through again. I can respect it, but I don't need to watch it.
The fact that there is now a remake of MARTYRS is no surprise, Laugier sold the remake rights as soon as his film got international release. The surprise is that, after several years of development hell, Blumhouse Productions, The Safran Company, and directors Kevin and Michael Goetz (SCENIC ROUTE) managed to shoot the low budget remake in total secrecy. We didn't know about it until it was already in the can. This weekend, it will be released into the world to answer the question, "How can you possibly remake MARTYRS?"
The Goetz brothers and screenwriter Mark L. Smith (VACANCY, THE HOLE, THE REVENANT) remade MARTYRS by being reasonably faithful to the original film, up to a point. The story remains the same: a young girl named Lucie escapes from a torturous imprisonment in an abandoned building and forges a deep, lifelong friendship with a girl named Anna at the orphanage she ends up in. Years later - fifteen in original, ten here - Lucie finds the people who tortured her all those years ago, walks into their average suburban home, and blows away their nuclear family with a shotgun. Having committed a quadruple homicide, Lucie calls on Anna for help.
What the girls do in the murder house was the point at which the original film first lost me - they spend hours in there, ostensibly to "clean up" the crime scene by disposing of the bodies in the most obvious place possible, meanwhile leaving further traces of their presence all over the house. It made absolutely no sense. The remake tries to fix that lapse in logic. Lucie explains that the only way that the "monster" that has been haunting her since childhood, a ghoulish figure that attacks her and inflicts serious phyical damage on her (actually a hallucination that drives her to self harm), will only leave her alone if they clean up the place so it's like this evil family never existed.
It's a game of give and take, though. You get an explanation for why the girls waste their time on the futile effort of trying to clean the house, and it makes much more sense that it would be done to appease Lucie's psychosis rather than to try to throw off the police, but you also lose other explanations. The original was much more clear about how Lucie tracked down her abductors in the first place, and that the violent figure she imagined was a fellow captive she was unable to help. The remake doesn't tell you what Lucie's monster is. If only the two could be melded together.
The American versions of Lucie and Anna are portrayed by Troian Bellisario and Bailey Noble, respectively, and the actresses do a fine job with the material they've been handed, but never reach the intense heights of emotion that their French predecessors went to. The situation they're in is certainly upsetting to them, but they're much more chill than Mylène Jampanoï and Morjana Alaoui were in Laugier's film.
For the first 50 minutes, MARTYRS 2015 is following the exact same track as MARTYRS 2008. When it finally starts to diverge and take its own path, it's to the film's detriment. As it goes on, it becomes more and more apparent that the story has undergone a very stereotypical Americanization process, a whitewashing to make it more palatable to a wider audience.
The brutality has been severely toned down. This is first evident in the new captive that Anna discovers in an underground torture chamber. In the original, this victim was a terribly disfigured woman who had clearly been put through absolute hell. Here we have a little girl in a nearly pristine white dress. The film continues in this way, with the extended torture sequence being much less violent and difficult to watch. The torture was devastating in the original, here the person on the receiving end of it looks, for the most part, like she simply ran into Lita Ford on a Saturday night.
While the film is wimping out on the violence, it's also descending into pure cinema fantasy land, expanding the scope of things too far and trying to deliver rousing, crowd-pleasing scenes of heroism and gunplay. Bleak nihilism is replaced by Hollywood hopefulness and it feels absurd. If you're a die hard fan of the '08 movie, you may be appalled at how things go down here, but even if this is your first exposure to the story you're likely to feel like the movie has gone completely off the rails.
MARTYRS 2015 is not a particularly good film, but it is a decently made one, although it has an oddly incongruous warm look to much of the cinematography which makes its low budget more apparent and at times makes it look like a basic cable TV movie.
Unless you're a fan of the actresses involved, I really can't imagine that viewers will take much away from watching the MARTYRS remake. If you want to be told this story, just stick with the 2008 French film.