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The tradition of making American remakes of highly influential foreign films that completely miss the mark shows no sign of slowing down with the American remake of the French horror film, Martyrs. The original film from 2008, directed by Pascal Laugier, is considered a modern horror cult classic that pushed the limits on onscreen gore and depravity. Unfortunately, this American version is highly sanitized which in turn provides several plot holes, and poses more questions than providing any sense of resolution.
Martyrs is centered around a young girl named Lucy, who flees a torture chamber where she has been held for an undisclosed amount of time. Lucy spends the rest of her young years living an isolated existence in a Catholic orphanage. She encounters a cheerful girl named Anna, who stops at nothing to become Lucy’s friend.
Lucy enters a lovely country home and encounters a picture perfect family. She then calls a sleeping Anna and to let her know she’s confronted her attackers and she must come see the people that ruined her life, and the monsters will not leave her alone unless they’re dead.
Many of the taglines of this film online read as a version of this: “After young Lucy grows into adult, she goes back along with her best friend Anna to exact revenge on the people that abused her as a child.” Can Lucy regain some sense of normalcy after being tortured to the brink of death? Well, the abuse that Lucy encountered is not abuse, it was torture. The original is famously known for its painfully disturbing torture scenes, but here much of the gore is cut out, so you cannot fully grasp the extreme pain that the victims’ experience. Here, there are a lot of shots that show the start of the torture sequences, but the camera soon cuts way. This is one of the few examples where the special attention to extra gore could have been more effective.
The dynamic of the film shifts about the half way into the movie when Anna discovers the truth about what really happened with Lucy. The plot dives into a perplexing message about nihilism, cruelty, and strength of the human spirit. For a film that wants to convey such strong messages, there is hardly any character development between Anna and Lucy. You see their sweet relationship as children, but you have no idea what kind of people they are as adults. You do not have an idea of how the abuse that Lucy experienced as a child drove her to the brink of madness as an adult. You don’t know how Lucy’s constant reliving of the abuse really affected their friendship. Lucy and Anna are portrayed as two-dimensional characters; with Lucy being hell bent on revenge and Anna focused on helping her friend.
Martyrs is not at all scary; it is confusing. It could possibly be trying to prove a point about the strength of the human spirit, but I’m unsure as to which point. Lucy says she is tormented by monsters and it is her impetus for seeking out her abusers, but the monsters she speaks of disappear pretty early on in the film. Anna wants to comfort her friend, but at the same time she doesn’t believe her stories. All watching this remake does is make you long to see the original, hoping that it is not in such a hurry to tell its story.