The first time I ever hard about the original French version of the film Martyrs (2008) was at San Diego Comic Con 2013. I was at a horror panel that featured directors Jen and Sylvia Soska, friends of Biff Bam Pop, who cited Martyrs as an intense viewing experience. Though I never did follow up on watching the film, it did stick with me, mainly because the Soskas are purveyors of a specific brand of horror, so if a film gets to them, there’s likely no way I’ll be able to sit through it. It’s part of what is labelled the New French Extremity movement – I’ll let you look that up yourself. What I can tell is, upon discussing Martyrs with Rue Morgue Magazine Editor-In-Chief Dave Alexander a few days ago, he recalled someone actually throwing up in the theatre at the Toronto International Film Festival screening of Martyrs. So, no thank you.
Then came word that an Americanized remake of Martyrs was on the way from directors The Goetz Brothers, and that piqued my interest. In checking out some reviews, it appeared that the violence had been significantly tapered off (along with some significant story changes as well). On that note, I decided I was ready and willing to take on the film…even if it was a diluted version of it.
The film begins with a young woman, Lucy (Troian Bellisario), escaping from being held captive by some unknown group. She is taken in by an orphanage and befriended by Anna (Bailey Noble). Lucy has baggage – severe baggage, in the form of a monster that abuses her mercilessly. Nobody but Anna believes Lucy’s story. Years later, a teenage Lucy tracks down the family that captured and abused her and kills them. But there’s more to them and their motives that Lucy ever knew. That’s where the story really begins, in many ways.
There’s an interesting depiction of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in Martyrs – the monster, the monkey on the back of Lucy that will doubtfully never let her go. However, as we delve deeper into the film, as the torture begins and various theological notions come into play, I couldn’t help but start to think, what’s the point of the movie? Is it exploitation and violence – well no, not quite, considering that much of the violence, save for one pivotal moment, takes place off camera. Is it a monster movie? Not at all – the monster in question disappears relatively quickly in the film. Is it asking unique questions? No, not at all. The idea of a martyr is someone who gives up their life freely for a cause. The film’s depiction doesn’t fit the definition.
Having not seen the original, obviously I have to take the remake of Martyrs on its own merits. The performances from the lead actors are certainly solid. The score is outstanding, and even though directors The Goetz Brothers were working in low-budget territory, they managed to make a stylish, good looking film. The issue I have, though, is that, at the end of the day, I didn’t have any idea of the point of the film. It wasn’t violent enough to appeal to gore hounds. It doesn’t really pose or answer any theological questions. It wasn’t scary enough to appeal to the horror fans. Perhaps it will resonate with those that love revenge flicks like I Spit On Your Grave. I’m not sure. I hate to be a fence sitter, but as I’ve been writing it’s actually become clear to me that I haven’t completely worked out my feelings on Martrys, which isn’t a bad thing.
Movies should stick with you, whether they’re good or bad. While I may not know what the point of the film is, I’m certainly going to be stuck trying to figure it out in the days ahead.