First of all I must make a confession. I never managed to catch Pascal Laugier’s original 2008 movie Martyrs which had an impressive reputation. So this remake directed by brothers is my first experience of the film.
In many ways this is both good and bad and I will tell you why.
With all remakes there is a presumption that by its very existence it is a terrible thing. You hear people yelling ‘How could they do that!’ ‘What was wrong with the first film?’ and ‘Are people really too lazy to read subtitles!’ all of which are valid points.
This negativity clouds your viewing experience setting you up to hate the film before it’s even started. ‘It won’t be as good as the original’ you mutter to nobody in particular as the lights dim in the busy cinema.
With this mindset you seek out all the bad points of the remake like a laser targeted missile building your case against the film as it rolls on ready to erupt out of you like a verbal volcano as you leave your seat and head home. And you know what, most of the time your right because most of the time remakes suck.
The point is a few of them don’t and it would be a shame to miss those rare gems that reinvent the previous picture elevating it above its source material (The Thing) or illuminating areas and ideas previously unseen (We are What we Are).
It is impossible to come to a remake of something you have seen already with an open mind ready to receive the old new product all over again freshly repackaged without biases, that is unless you never saw the original but therein lays another issue.
Many times the story is the most original thing about a film and it was the story of Martyrs that really blew me away. Opening on the discovery of a young girl named Lucie who has been held hostage and tortured by a psychopath we find out that the police have no leads as to where the madman has escaped too.
Leaving the physically and mentally scarred girl at an orphanage and interviewing her in the intervening years they learn nothing more however she becomes close to another girl Anna and their friendship alleviates some of the pain she has suffered.
Skip forward 10 years later to a picturesque house filled with a very normal looking family and all of a sudden a grown up Lucie (Pretty Little Liars Troian Bellisario) bursts in with a shotgun brutally murdering everyone in the homestead including the two teenage kids pausing only to call Anna (True Blood’s Bailey Noble) to tell her she has found the man who held her captive.
Arriving at the bloody scene shocked and scared Annie is unsure of her fiend’s mental state and she is unable to trust what Lucie says even though she desperately wants to help her. What unfolds is a shocking and horrifying journey into life, death and the boundaries of pain and abuse that you will most definitely find hard to forget regardless if you have seen it all before.
Relative newcomers to movie making the Goetz brothers do a good job at the helm of a Hollywood remake and the two leads are excellent putting an immense amount of emotion and intensity into their performances especially Bellisario who should be credited for taking on such a difficult and risky role after so many years as a staple of a TV show.
But let’s get back to that originality issue I mentioned because in looking up the previous films plot line apart from one quite big change all the elements I found most interesting and novel remain in the 2008 French film so if it is the story and themes that captivated me in Martyrs is it really fair to credit this version any further?
Ultimately the answer is to always try and see the first film first and then be as unjudgmental as possible when watching the remake trying to spot the differences and innovations if any that make it worth watching. Of course many times there won’t be any at all but it would be way worse to overlook something special through preconceived prejudice even in a genre so excessively littered with terrible remakes as horror sadly is.
Martyrs is a must see film for sure but make sure you watch the original before seeing this solid well performed remake so that you can compare and contrast but most of all enjoy the horror the right way round unlike me.