Pascal Laugier’s 2008 “Martyrs” was a grueling experience that masked blatant misogyny and torture as a pseudo-intellectual transcendental tale about the afterlife and the pressing question about where we go when we die. Kevin and Michael Goetz’s remake of “Martyrs” is not only a pointless exercise in futility, but it dodges any and all attempts to improve on the goofy ideas about spirituality by mostly dodging them. By dodging the torture and pegging this as cheap exploitation, and alternately dismissing the ideas about the afterlife and transforming this in to a spiritual horror film, it effectively renders itself pretty damn pointless and dull.
Anchor Bay have toned down the excessive violence and cruelty for a broader audience, this time shifting the entire narrative from Laugier’s film to offer something of a glimmer of a hope for folks that like their films with a rosey ending. Though “Martyrs” still ends on a depressing down beat, it’s more of a bittersweet finale, rather than the bleak dead end we found in the 2008 original. “Martyrs” does absolutely nothing to re-invent the wheel only really re-locating a lot of the major scenes, and focusing less on the normality of the family we meet in the first half. When Lucie escaped the clutches of torture as a child, she was sent to an orphanage and formed a lifelong friendship with fellow orphan Anna.
Anna has an insight in to what makes Lucie tick, and their deep friendship becomes a fascination for their orphanage. Years later, Lucie shows up at the door of a seemingly normal farm family and slaughters them with a shotgun. Calling Anna to help her look for her torture chamber, Anna learns the hard way that Lucie wasn’t a liar, and her torture wasn’t merely an isolated incident so much as a larger scheme to uncover the mysteries of the afterlife. “Martyrs” is a lot more obvious and blunt in its representation of martyrdom, opting for the inevitable torture of our female characters that’s more on the nose than suggestive to the experience the mysterious religious organization submits to young women.
To sell home that these are martyrs, we view one girl burnt alive at the stake, while Lucie is propped up on a crucifix, as followers pray around her. There’s still the bigger question unanswered about whether there is an afterlife, but rather than leave it for us to interpret, it’s made plainly obvious in the climax. I hated 2008’s “Martyrs,” but it at least didn’t spell the story out for its audience. Despite their best efforts, the cast’s performances are only serviceable, with Trojan Bellisario and Bailey Noble trying their damndest to convey their torment and emotional trauma. 2016’s “Martyrs” is a lackluster and monotonous horror thriller that does nothing to improve on the original. It’s merely a ninety minute cinematic void filling a studio contractual obligation.