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John’s Horror Corner: Martyrs (2015), a toothless remake of the 2008 French extreme film.

May 15, 2020

MY CALL: Maybe entertaining, but woefully disappointing to anyone who appreciated Martyrs (2008) in its emotionally gut-punching true glory. MORE MOVIES LIKE Martyrs: Looking for more extreme French cinema? Go for Martyrs (2008), Inside (2007) and Frontiers (2007).

REMAKE/REIMAGINING SIDEBAR: For more horror remakes, I strongly favor the following: Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978), An American Werewolf in London (1981), The Thing (1982), The Fly (1986), The Mummy (1999), The Ring (2002), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003), The Hills Have Eyes (2006), Friday the 13th (2009), Let Me In (2010), Evil Dead (2013), Carrie (2013), The Town That Dreaded Sundown (2014), It (2017), Suspiria (2018) and Child’s Play (2019). Those to avoid include Body Snatchers (1993; the second remake), War of the Worlds (2005), The Invasion (2007; the third remake), Prom Night (2008), Night of the Demons (2009), Sorority Row (2009), Patrick: Evil Awakens (2013), Poltergeist (2015), Cabin Fever (2016), Unhinged (2017) and The Mummy (2017). I’m on the fence about An American Werewolf in Paris (1997), The Grudge (2004), Halloween (2007), It’s Alive (2009), My Bloody Valentine (2009), A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010), Fright Night (2011), The Thing (2011; a prequel/remake), Maniac (2012), Rabid (2019) and Pet Sematary (2019), which range from bad to so-so (as remakes) but still are entertaining movies on their own.

From its opening scene (which mirrors the 2008 original), this remake lacks the dire hopeless urgency of its predecessor. After escaping a horrible confinement, a young Lucie is remanded to an orphanage. Lucie’s (Troian Bellisario; Pretty Little Liars) abductors are never found, she suffers horrible nightmares, and she becomes a loner. In need of sympathy, she meets Anna (Bailey Noble; True Blood) and they become fast friends.

Flashforward ten years. A clearly mentally feral Lucie hunts for those who wronged her, Anna tries her best to be Lucie’s keeper, and Lucie is still haunted by her own demons. But as crazy as Lucie may be, Anna comes to learn that she’s actually right about some things.

Lucie’s “personal demon” may be mean and brutal, especially if this is your first experience with Martyrs. But anyone who has seen the original knows what true disturbing horror can be, and this remake doesn’t have it. 2015’s specter is mean for the sake of being mean, but 2008’s nightmare fuel inspired a nigh Lovecraftian madness. As intense as this film may seem, it’s a cheap and shallow rehashing of its source material.

Comparing 2015 (above) to 2008 (below)–these two young ladies had very different experiences with their death cults. And while more gore doesn’t translate into “better”, just trust that the difference in impact of all aspects of these films mirror these images.

Like Lucie’s demon, the torture scenes may shock those unseasoned to the torture porn subgenre or extreme French cinema, but they lacked teeth. The final scenes (which weakly emulated the flaying and grand revelation of 2008), felt like phoned in, watered down reimaginings that fail to earn my reverence. There is no comparison to the extremity or thoughtfulness of the original, through which you earn your awful shock by enduring Lucie’s wrenching journey.

Directors Kevin and Michael Goetz (Scenic Route) generally succeed in replaying the 2008 French film in softened (i.e., Americanized) fashion and, to those who never saw the original, this may even pass as “intense” and “good.” But given how close this is to an exact scene-for-scene remake, I have difficulty judging it on its own merits. 2008 made me wince and grit my teeth and feel so deeply and awfully horribly for the protagonists. This remake did no such thing. By comparison, it was hollow; a frail husk of its model.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. May 16, 2020 9:58 am

    If it’s toothless, I don’t see a point to it. Gotta have that gut punch.

  2. May 23, 2020 11:33 pm

    Sounds dreadful. Thanks for the review, I’ll skip this one.

    • John Leavengood permalink
      May 24, 2020 3:25 pm

      Skip it. But if you haven’t seen the original, you should see it.

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