Monday, April 27, 2020

Friends Forever

Pascal Laugier's Martyrs remains one of the most discussed, most celebrated horror films to come out this century. On the surface, it was packaged like a just another example of the French extremity and torture porn movements that had become the subgenre du joir. Look closer and you see a potpourri of styles, from ruthless home invasion to J-horror ghost story. Watch the whole film and take a breath and you get something completely different: a philosophical conundrum that asks deep questions it refuses to answer. It's truly something special, and one that even gets better upon rewatch.

Hollywood being Hollywood, it naturally got remade and dumped into DVD bins right as the world stopped buying DVDs. Naturally, I rented it via Netflix disc. Because there's always one...

Quick Plot: Young Lucie escapes some kind of torturous warehouse, ending up in the care of St. Mary's Orphanage where she is quickly befriended by the kind Anna. Ten years later, Lucie makes a standard homicidal home invasion call to a seemingly normal white collar family. Anna swings by to help and finds herself in shock at Lucie's shotgun violence, believing her friend to be delusional. As she tries to help clean up the mess, she soon discovers a sprawling torture chamber and trapped little girl named Sam, thus proving Lucie right.

So far, so Pascal Laugier's Martyrs. Written by Mark L. Smith of Vacancy, The Revenant, and the very clever Overlord, Martyrs stays extremely close to its source material until a very specific character decision. If you want it revealed, stop now. If you're one of the eight people in the world who care how the American remake of Martyrs turns out, continue.

Unlike Laugier's original, Lucie survives her attempted suicide only to be re-kidnapped by the philosophical torture gang (is there a better way to describe them?), here led by Kate Burton's Eleanor. Anna gets a few rounds of electro-shock torture but proves a victim rather than titular martyr, though her survival instincts kick in to save her from being buried alive, free young Sam one more time, and display some rather impressive hand-to-hand combat moves in an attempt to save her BFF.

Where Laugier's Anna was flayed full body to the point of martyrdom, Lucie gets what seems like a minor scraping. While it's a ridiculous way to nod to the most powerful image of the first film, the final moments of Martyrs actually have something slightly new to say. 

Anna's love of Lucie was always a fascinating aspect of Laugier's film, so if directors Kevin and Michael Goetz were going to do anything different with their remake, centering that certainly works. Anna has a different arc here: initially dismissed as too weak for martyrdom, she reaches it via a different path and seems to ascend side by side with Lucie.

It's an interesting twist, even if it confuses some of the ambiguity of Laugier's film. In 2008's Martyrs, Anna seems to reach the point the torturers seek. When she whispers what she sees into Mademoiselle's ear, the woman reacts by shooting herself in the head. We're left to wonder what Anna said. Was it so beautiful that Mademoiselle couldn't wait to get there? A condemnation for all her sins? My theory has always been that there was nothing there, because what could be worse than realizing the years of hell you've put innocent children through was for naught?

In the Goetz's remake, Lucie whispers something to a different character, who promptly shoots himself in the face. Anna then puts a bullet in Eleanor's head. There's something...odd about that. 

On one hand, sure. Kill the woman in charge who oversaw the torture of your best friend. On the other...what does that really mean? Should we feel vindication that Eleanor never gets to know what martyrs see? 

My point, I suppose, is that there is something to Martyrs 2015 in how it tried to take the original film and explore some different angles within it. Unfortunately, it doesn't really get too far. 

High Points
I hate a lot of the decisions made in Martyrs 2015, but I do think it's important that Smith's script recognizes the connection Anna has to Lucie to be a hugely important element in their story

Low Points
The amount of Bond villaining that keeps a character alive so that she can hear dastardly plans before being almost executed in an elaborate manner is more ridiculous than the sentence I just wrote

Lessons Learned
When burying someone alive, take a few extra seconds to make sure there's no exit route

Or, if the main goal is to kill said person, just kill them

New weapon of choice: a shotgun, which is apparently extremely easy to aim, deadly to use, and fast to load

Pretty Little Final Girls
And with Martyrs, thus do we complete the first unofficial (of what I hope will be many more) round of Pretty Little Liars in horror films. Lucie shares some of Spencer Hastings' determination, so in its own way, it's kind of fitting that Troian Bellisario (who definitely deserves better) finds herself here.

Look, I'm not going to tell you to spend much energy in tracking down and watching 90 minutes of the mediocre Martyrs remake. That being said, I went into this expecting the pits, something akin to the American Pulse. The Goetz's Martyrs will never make the list of best reimaginings, but honestly, it's very far from the worst. While it certainly feels a bit neutered, it also offers a slightly different point of view on the original material. If you're going to recreate one of the best genre films of the last twenty years, you better have some kind of reason other than "Amurikans don't read." There is something here. Is it worth a watch? Not necessarily, but I appreciate the effort. 


  1. I didn't know there was a remake of this at all. Initially I thought you were reviewing the original film, and was confused for a minute. I'm generally not a fan of remakes and reboots, especially when made only 7 years after the original. I always have to wonder what the motivation was to do such a thing -- was it because someone thought the original was good but could be way better with a few tweaks? Was it because producers wanted an English version to offer to North American audiences? Or did someone think they would somehow strike gold, that Martyrs did ok in 2008 but would be a home run in 2015? All of these things seem so dubious that I just can't fathom the inspiration to do such a thing.

    All that being said, I'm sure I must love one or two remakes. I wonder what those would be, I'll have to give it some thought. You seem to watch way more horror flicks than me, which remakes/reboots have you enjoyed?

    Ps, I watched Midsommar a few nights ago. Not great, 5/10 I thought. It was beautifully done and I loved the grotesque sacrifice scenes but as far as plot and character development, I think it promised big but failed to deliver. I ultimately didn't understand or sympathize with any of the characters. And how many 20-something Americans exclusively wear blank, XL t-shirts? Certainly not THAT many. That was such a weird and ill-conceived detail that bugged me the whole time.

  2. Sure, remakes are cash grabs, but cinema is a business so it's hard to fault too much. To me, a remake is as good or bad as its filmmaker makes it, the same way an adaptation of a beloved book is. Some good to great ones: The Fly, The Thing, The Blob, 13 Sins, We Are What We ARe, Last House On the Left, House of Wax, Dawn of the Dead, technically Wizard of Oz!...

    Aw, I loved Midsommar, but I understand it not working for everyone. That being said, I think there are essays to be written about Dani's wardrobe and how it represents her character journey. But I think that's doable about everything in that movie!