27th Feb2016

Glasgow Frightfest: ‘Martyrs’ Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Troian Bellisario, Bailey Noble, Kate Burton, Caitlin Carmichael Caitlin Carmichael, Melissa Tracy, Romy Rosemont, Toby Huss, Elyse Cole, Ever Prishkulnik, Blake Robbins, Taylor John Smith, Lexi DiBenedetto, Ivar Brogger | Written by Mark L. Smith | Directed by Kevin and Michael Goetz

martyrs-cast

To be fair, given the reputation Pascal Laugiers’ Martyrs has in the horror community, it was never going to be an easy task for Kevin and Michael Goetz to remake the film. Given that there are already a myriad of reviews out there comparing the two (detrimentally), I’m going to try something new and NOT mention Laugiers’ original film too much… Though given how closely this remake follows the original movie, that could be difficult!

Martyrs tells the story of Lucie, a young girl who – in the films opening – escapes from a warehouse where she was being held captive and brutalised.With no idea of where she came from or who she is, Lucie eventually ends up rehomed in a Catholic orphange, where she becomes firm friends with Anna – another orphan who seemingly is determined to be Lucie’s friend whatever the cost. Leaving the orphanage a decade later Lucie is determined to find the family who tortured her.Which she does. But that is only the start of Lucie and Anna’s harrowing journey as they discover that the family Lucie has killed have another captive in their basement… and the family is part of a much bigger, much more insidious group determined to find out the truth about martyrdom.

Generally there’s only a handful of reasons Hollywood has to remake a film. To update an older story for modern audiences, to Westernise a foreign film, to improve on what has come before or just to cash in on the name recognition. In the case of Martyrs it would seem that Hollywood has found a new reason to remake a film: Religious zealotry.

For religious fanaticism is the only thing this remake has going for it. The story is exactly the same and this remake certainly doesn’t improve on what has come before – in fact it is tamer than the original film, toning down the more extreme horror elements, whilst trying to present something that American audiences will still find somewhat grisly. Of course it goes without saying (though I’m sayting it) that Kevin and Michael Goetz have made Martyrs English-language friendly but what they have also done is tied the ideas behind their version of the film much more to aspects of modern religion – especially the more fanatical side, such as the US bible belt. It feels like the Goetzs are using their remake as something of a diatribe against modern religion and it’s idea of the afterlife. After all, its the concept that zealots have somewhere to go after they die that often fuels terrorist ideologies.

You have to applaud screenwriter Mark L. Smith for trying to take Martyrs in a slightly different direction – Laugier’s original film was undoubtedly a very bleak, often harrowing insight into the lives of the abused and their abusers but Smith’s script tries to bring some hope to proceedings; and whilst that may appeal to the religious amongst the audience, for those not inclined to believe in a higher power it will, sadly, just seems like a watering-down of the original films very dark tale.

This remake of Martyrs is not all bad. It’s certainly better than it sounds on paper. Thankfully the choice of cast helps overcome issues with the story (the friendship between Lucie and Anna could have done with a little more fleshing out post-orphanage for example). Troian Bellisario is superb as Lucie, showing much more range than she does on her, admittedly teen-friendly, TV show. Meanwhile Bailey Noble (True Blood) manages to bring some depth to Anna despite the seemingly one-dimensional role she’s given to play – and despite the changes to the character in this adaptation.

In the end, this version of Martyrs is something of a curio. Fans of Laugier’s film will probably hate it, yet I bet there’s plenty that will watch it out of some sense of morbid curiosity. Yet for those unaware of the original, these Martyrs may just find an audience… It’s astonishingly better than I expected.

*** 3/5

Martyrs is out in select UK cinemas 1st April and DVD 4th April, courtesy of Altitude.

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