'Martyrs' (2016)

Martyrs (2016)
© Anchor Bay

Synopsis: A young woman accompanies her longtime friend on her journey of vengeance against the people who kidnapped and tortured her as a child.

Cast: Troian Bellisario, Bailey Noble, Kate Burton, Caitlin Carmichael, Toby Huss

Directors: Kevin Goetz, Michael Goetz

Studio: Anchor Bay Entertainment

MPAA Rating: NR

Running Time: 87 minutes

Release Date: January 22, 2016 (on demand February 2)

Martyrs Movie Trailer

Martyrs Movie Review

The 2008 French film Martyrs isn't well known amongst mainstream moviegoers, but within the horror fan base, it's attained cult notoriety for its extreme violence, unsettling concept and distinctly non-Hollywood content. So, of course, Hollywood has decided to remake it.

The Plot

Ten-year-old Lucie escapes from a torture chamber and the clutches of unknown captors, bloodied and alive but emotionally scarred for life. She cautiously makes her only friend, Anna, during her stay in an orphanage, and the two become inseparable.

A decade later, Lucie believes she has located the people who harmed her, living a seemingly innocuous life as an upper middle-class married couple with two teenage kids and a house with a literal white picket fence. While Anna thinks Lucie's just scoping out the joint in order to alert the police, her mentally unhinged bestie has more direct vengeance in mind, drawing Anna into an unexpected world of sadism and depravity.

The End Result

Martyrs isn't one of those movies that shouldn't be remade because the original is so great it can't be touched. It's a movie that shouldn't be remade because...well, have you seen the original? It's like watching someone drown a sack of cats and then asking for more of the same. Needless to say, the original film isn't a pleasant experience, even if it is admirable for its originality and ferocious audacity.

I'm generally open-minded when it comes to remakes -- there have been enough good ones to warrant not immediately dismissing any new ones that come along -- but the concept of an American Martyrs sounded misguided from the get-go, and while the end result isn't as disastrous as it could've been, it's predictably a more toothless effort that dulls the edges from start to finish.

This of course begs the question of why you'd bother trying to make palatable a movie whose power lies largely in how discordant, unorthodox and unpalatable it is. The story is a journey through torture, and the French film brings the audience along for that wholly unpleasant, exhausting ride, but the remake cushions that sense of discomfort at every turn, downplaying the graphic violence and even the nudity (which, rather that feel exploitive, served to heighten the stark, visceral nature of the torment). Indeed, the "breaking down" of the torture victim in the new movie feels so brief, it undermines the crucial plot point that she is somehow so special she can withstand an onslaught of brutality that no one else has endured intact.

For all its graphic content, though, the original movie was more subtly told than the remake, which, true to the expected Hollywood strategy of dumbing down a script to make it more easily digested, tries to explain elements that the first film only implied.

One thing I do give the American version credit for, however, is its willingness to carve out a new story path and not remain overly reverential toward the French version. Whereas the first half of the plot features only superficial revisions, the second half presents some intriguing variances that don't always work but are worthwhile attempts that add new wrinkles without totally disregarding the spirit of the original. That said, the changes are still very much of the "Hollywood" variety, trying to create a more traditional heroine role (at the cost of believability) and putting a more rosy spin on the bleak subject matter -- resulting in a couple of groan-worthy moments in the final minutes.

The Skinny

  • Acting: C (Passable, but lacks the emotional veracity of the original cast, particularly Troian Bellisario as Lucie and Kate Burton as the primary antagonist, who here comes off as a Bond villain.)
  • Direction: C (Lacks the original's ferocity and grit; suffers a bit from the small budget.)
  • Script: D+ (Despite some interesting story variants, it's unsubtle with some cloying sentimentality and too great a concern with mainstreaming the content.)
  • Gore/Effects: C (OK gore but lacks the impact of the original; some jarringly cheesy CGI.)
  • Overall: C- (An ill-conceived remake that tries to tame a wild horse but ends up being kicked in the teeth.)

Martyrs is directed by Kevin Goetz and Michael Goetz and is not rated by the MPAA. Release date: January 22, 2016 (on demand February 2).

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