When it was first announced there would be a remake of Pascal Laugier’s French New Wave Extreme classic Martyrs the internet went nuts. The fans couldn’t see why a remake was A) needed or B) commercially viable considering how successful- not to mention, recent- the original had been. Kevin and Michael Goetz’ Martyrs is, in many ways, exactly what you might expect from an American rehash of a graphic contemporary classic, but it’s actually not that bad.
The bare bones of the story are pretty much the same: Anna (Bailey Noble) and Sophie (Troian Bellisario), two friends who met in the orphanage they grew up in, seek revenge against the people who kidnapped and tortured Lucie as a child. Finding and killing them is only the beginning of their nightmare.
Laugier’s original is clearly a film about the danger of institutions, religious or otherwise, whilst the Goetz brothers’ is a ham-fisted attack on Catholicism. Opportunities are rarely missed to blurt out the horror of the cross and the parallels between a fascistic torture clan and the nun-run orphanage where Anna and Sophie grew up in. So much so that the film’s eventual climactic set-piece appeared to elicit the largest audience eye-roll of Frightfest 2016. No easy task, mind you.
Kate Burton proves a valuable asset, channelling Piper Laurie in a role which has the power to make or break the villains of Martyrs. Over-exposure to some of the organization’s key-players proves irritatingly humanising, especially when Laugier tried so hard to obscure the voices and faces of Madame’s hench-folk. Yet Burton’s performance frequently pulls the script back into place, reasserting the point of the whole escapade, in a horrifyingly charming way.
If Laugier’s Martyrs subjects the audience to the isolated horrors of Lucy’s experience, the Goetz bros’ version opens up the quiet country setting for American-Style survival horror. Mark L. Smith’s (The Revenant) script changes are often made only to increase the tension and drama: additional victims in the subterranean torture chamber are tacked-on extras, as are additional escapes and chases. These predominantly surface-level alterations only serve to quicken the pace and divert from the unrelenting violence underlying the entire story, a violence they would have done better to understand the origins of.
The Goetz Bros’ Martyrs isn’t actually as offensive as people seem to think. Its nicely made and has a good cast, but its heavy handed imagery and ultimately redundant narrative changes make it an uninspired retread.
Dir. Kevin and Michael Goetz
Stars: Bailey Noble, Troian Bellisario, Kate Burton, Toby Huss, Blake Robbins