I’m sure you, like me, wonder what the point is in remaking movies. If a movie was great, what possesses a creative talent to feel it either needs to be updated, or bettered? If a movie was poor, why not just let it fade into history? To be sure, I’ve enjoyed a couple of remakes (Let Me In and Funny Games spring to mind), while simultaneously feeling the original was good enough by itself, but for every remake that produces a decent movie, there are many more that are just awful by means of poor realization and needless plot changes. This kind of “I can do it different/better” thinking leads to work like Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes and RoboCop (2014) – and this is the case with Martyrs .
Written by Mark L. Smith (Vacancy, The Revenant), and directed by Kevin and Michael Goetz (Scenic Route), (and “A Producer of Annabelle” – quite an endorsement there!) this version really lacks much of everything that made the original such an absorbing work. I’ll say up front that I liked the concept of the original much more than the actual movie, so I’m not approaching the remake with slavish devotion. A few years ago, I watched it upon recommendation and was impressed with it, but I wasn’t a huge fan. What I took from it is the end reveal, where you finally learn what the degradation and torture was all about. It’s the culmination of the movie, and feels like it, even if it could have been done better. Still, it’s a movie that has stuck in my mind to the point where I needed to watch the remake just to see if it could generate that same traction.
The answer is no, and it’s mostly due to the one major plot change that comes at the end of the overextended first act. This change has a gigantic ripple effect on the plot from there on in, so much, in fact, that it not only provides a significant departure from the original, it also results in a much tamer movie both in terms of plot and content. Where the original Martyrs went for straight nihilism, the original creates an audience identification character for no other reason I can think of other than the remake moviemakers were either turned off by the bleakness of the original, or didn’t have the talent to replicate it. Regardless of the reason, this is one fundamental flaw of the movie. Choosing not to go down the same path leads to a second act scene of heavy exposition that replaces the end reveal of the original, and a somewhat ridiculous, conventional “rescue” scene, that clumsily ends up arriving at much the same ending of the original. This is a cardinal sin of remakes – change a few scenes here and there, yet force the action to hit the same resolution. Dropping the extreme violence of the original was something of a mystery too. The movie takes on almost TV movie quality, it’s so toothless. The violence of the original Martyrs supported the underlying concept to the point where it was a necessary part of the plot – removing that ingredient is like trying to make a cake without flour.
Technically speaking the remake suffers in other areas too. For some reason, the directors choose so many close up shots that what you see on the screen looks small and rushed, like you’re watching it on a phone and chosen to spread the screen. In the exterior scene leading up to the climax, the direction and photography are particularly painful to watch. The other negative for me was the choice of actress for the main role (True Blood’s Bailey Noble). With her vacant stare and omnipresent slack jawed gape, I really disliked her early on, and nothing about her role in the story, or how she portrayed the character did anything to change that.
This movie is yet another example of how not to do a remake. Whether or not the original is a classic of cinema, one must always strive to do better, or else why bother? This new, unimproved version of Martyrs fails on just about every level because what it lacks, above all of its many flaws, is that sense of ambition.
This review was originally published on 2/07/2016, at https://thatsnotcurrentblog.wordpress.com/