To paraphrase a famous line from DAWN OF THE DEAD, "when there is no more classic horror films left to remake, Hollywood will turn its attentions on to the new movies". We've already had QUARANTINE, a pretty listless reworking of the excellent [REC]. And what's with the recent overhaul of Eli Roth's CABIN FEVER? Now, it's the turn of one of the few films to have almost unanimously won the hearts of genre fans in recent years - French hit MARTYRS.
The film begins with 10-year-old Lucie fleeing her dank prison and racing into the street, bloodied and terrified. The cops subsequently check out the building in which she claims to have been repeatedly abused ... but find nothing.
Meanwhile, Lucie is placed in an orphanage where she meets Anna. A close friendship soon develops.
Cut to 10 years later, and we meet an innocuous-looking family preparing to have lunch at home. There's a knock at the door and the father goes to answer: it's Lucie (Troian Bellisario), all grown up and full of Hell, shotgun in hand. Shooting the entire family down in cold blood, she then contacts Anna (Bailey Noble) to tell her what she's done: true to form, her best pal races over there to help clean up the mess. It transpires that the parents of this family were the ones who held Lucie captive and tortured her as a child.
While cleaning up the mess, Lucie is repeatedly savaged by her guilt - a "monster" which has plagued her dreams for the last decade. Meanwhile Anna struggles to cope with the gravity of what's just happened - until she unearths a cellar door which leads to a whole new world of pain...
All of which will no doubt sound extremely familiar to fans of the original film. Indeed, the first 40 minutes or so are pretty much a carbon copy of that film. The remake's co-directors, siblings Kevin and Michael Goetz allow screenwriter Mark L Smith to take several liberties during the second half.
So, is it a worthy remake? Well, it's not a travesty. It's well-shot, the performances are credible throughout and production values are high. In fact, you could argue that this version caters for (a) those with an aversion to subtitled films and (b) the few who balked at the comparatively lo-fi - Super 16 blown up to 35mm - aesthetics of Pascal Laugier's original.
In contrast, this remake goes for warm colour-corrected hues and a highly cinematic sheen. Visually, the considered compositions and showy camerawork recalls modern Japanese cinema. While this displays that the Goetz brothers have talent (they previously made the 2013 thriller SCENIC ROUTE), it all feels somewhat misplaced in a story as brutal and ultimately sad as the one being told.
The American MARTYRS therefore emerges not only as being a pointless remake, but one that misses many of its progenitor's points. I don't want to discuss the film's themes too much here, as a lot of what there is to discuss would relate to the story's latter half and blight newcomers with spoilers galore, but Smith's amendments truly do rob the film of much of its power. The string-based score is a misstep too, adding unnecessary pathos that borders on melodrama.
In terms of gore, this film is almost on a par with its predecessor. It's never as brutal though: even when skin's getting peeled off, heads are smashed into tables and shards of glass are being rammed into thighs, there's a curious muted quality to it all. Again, this is perhaps due to the stylised, polished finish that the Goetz brothers have opted for. It's all very slickly edited together and performances are fine, but the intensity of before is definitely lacking.
MARTYRS is served well in the visual department on Altitude Film Distribution's region 2 DVD. The original 2.35:1 ratio is respected, and has been given the benefit of 16x9 enhancement. Colours are warm, flesh tones remain accurate throughout and blacks are consistently deep. Detail and sharpness are as they should be, and there are no instances of unsightly noise to speak of. The picture looks nicely filmic for the duration of playback.
English audio comes in dependable 2.0 and 5.1 mixes. While the latter edges it with intelligent channel separation and a nice bassy oomph to the film's more bombastic moments, it has to be said that both proffer reliable playbacks. The soundtrack is clean during quieter passages and rousingly boisterous when called to be.
Optional English subtitles for the Hard-of-Hearing are easy to read at all times and are, as far as I could see upon random checks, free from typing errors.
The whole thing kicks off with an animated main menu page. From there, a static scene selection menu allows access to the film via 12 chapters.
Extras begin with an 8-minute Behind The Scenes featurette. This rolls out in slick EPK fashion, with cast and crew members merrily describing the film as a "revenge action thriller" and so forth. Character motivations, the fact that the directors are such great guys to work with ... you know the type of thing to expect. One word of warning (if anyone is still unfamiliar with the MARTYRS story): the clips used are pretty spoilerific.
A 2-minute original trailer is polished and snappy, as well as curiously being heavily loaded with lots of footage from the film's second half.
The disc is also defaulted to open with trailers for THE NIGHTMARE and the excellent CUB.
MARTYRS 2015 is a curious beast. Its existence is pointless (unless you have a pathological hatred of subtitled films) and the manner in which the final act has been altered - turning events into an action movie of sorts at one point - is lamentable. It looks great and benefits from solid performances, and newcomers will still find set-pieces such as the family slaughter invigorating. But those comparing it to the 2008 original will not be converted.
Review by Stuart Willis
|Released by Altitude Film Distribution|
|see main review|