In this remake of Pascal Laugier’s Martyrs, a young woman tries to rid herself of her demons by seeking revenge on the people that abused her as a child.
The Goetz Brothers tackle an impossible task as they face the daunting challenge of remaking Pascal Laugier’s horror masterpiece Martyrs. Die-hard fans – admittedly, myself included – shuddered at the idea of a remake that is downright perfect. “What’s the point?” we wondered as we steadied to hate the imminent reimagining of one of our favourites. Sadly – or not so sadly – to hate the Goetz Brothers’ Martyrs is also an impossible task, because it’s just not that bad.
Undoubtedly, this one fails to reach the shocking heights of Laugier’s original, but this is no surprise. If you’ve seen the original you know what’s coming, thus, the shocking reveal and the climactic finale are doomed from the very beginning. When you re-watch 2008’s Martyrs it will never have the same, initial impact as it did the first time. It’s still freaking brilliant, but a tiny ounce of that preliminary terror and shock will disappear; destined to never return. The ending we are given here is shocking too, but for different reasons. It keeps to the spirit and feel of the original, but there is something undeniably comedic about the film’s strange final shot.
What the Goetz Brothers do is give the story a bit of a mix-up. It is within most of these decisions that the film ultimately fails. The focus is mainly on the relationship between Lucie (Troian Bellisairo) and Anna (Bailey Noble), which is a laudable decision and a way for the directing duo to put their own spin on the story. Let’s face it, copying Laugier’s word-for-word and shot-for-shot is never going to win anybody over. However, one reason why the original Martyrs was so damn striking and unforgettable was because of how it made you feel as you watch Lucie go through the worst pain imaginable. Her sense of helplessness and inability to escape make it all the more shocking; drawing us further and further in to her situation, so that we – as an audience – are the only ones that share her pain. The Goetz brothers eradicate this idea very soon in their film with one simple – but hindering – decision that prevents us from really feeling Lucie’s pain.
The subtlety regarding the religious aspects of the original Martyrs is also lost here. We are given shockingly obvious pushes in to a religious direction from the get-go, which again, prevents the film from having the climactic impact it so desperately needs. In another stark comparison to Laugier’s Martyrs, this one gives us a greater look at Lucie and Anna’s childhood; cementing their friendship early on and preparing us for some of the more minor narrative touches that are to come. The children live in a catholic boarding school and there is a huge amount of religious iconography donning the walls, so immediately, we start to draw conclusions relating to religion. Adding to this is the godly golden lighting that drenches many of the scenes, the frequent decision to have the girls looking up to the sky and an un-countable amount of camera shots from above. Connotations connecting to sins, forgiveness and redemption are screaming through this Martyrs’ seams and this lack of restraint is a very real limitation of this remake.
Martyrs may fail to restrain itself from covering the religious bases to a tee, but it sure knows how to restrain its violence. As expected, the violence and brutality is toned down as far as it can be. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a handful of eye-opening and brutal moments of bloodshed, especially during that house scene. The idea of Lucie struggling with her not-quite-so -inner demon is still explored and there are a few moments that are, dare I say it, a teeny bit scary. Unlike many audience-friendly American horror films – take the recent The Forest, The Boy etc. – Martyrs mostly manages to steer away from typical jump scares. General audience goers, especially those that have not seen the original, will find plenty to be scared of here. Hardcore horror fans will appreciate the Goetz brothers’ attempt to replicate the atmosphere of the original, but, it’s far from the unsettling, upsetting and disturbing levels featured in Pascal Laugier’s.
Despite these obvious, gaping flaws in Martyrs, the film is shot beautifully. There is a heap to appreciate in the film’s technical achievements and many scenes are striking to look at. The opening is strong and sets the film on a pedestal that it, sadly and unsurprisingly, manages to fall off by the time the film draws to a close. Lucie’s initial confinement as a child is captured in a gorgeous and heart-breaking fashion A stark contrast is made between the poignant score, the golden lighting and the horrific pain she has undergone; it’s emotional. It pulls at your heart-strings unashamedly and grips you like a vice as we hear Lucie’s cries against a backdrop of elegant technical choices. There are further moments that are exquisitely crafted, where chills appeared on the back of my neck and I thought, “wow”, but I was still waiting for the film to come crashing down. The imperfections in Martyrs cannot hide behind its pretty exterior, but the Goetz Brothers are quite clearly a couple of competent, confident film-makers with a lot of promise. Martyrs has ensured my interest in the pair remains, but I’m looking forward to seeing them head on their own journey and steer away from the world of remakes.
It’s not a patch on Pascal Laugier’s original horror masterpiece, but the Goetz Brothers’ interpretation of the Martyrs’ story is surprisingly chilling in parts and an overall commendable, if not wholly successful re-imagining, that is far from the disaster many will be expecting.
Words: Jessy Williams (@JessyCritical)