By Leslie Byron Pitt/@afrofilmviewer
The French original 2008 version of Martyrs is reminiscent of the delightful internet meme: Honey Badger don’t care. It is a relentless beast of a horror film. Fully assured of its nihilism and unrepentant on who knows it. A force of nature that wasn’t for everyone, but turned those who were with it into devout followers. Now in 2016, America comes forth with a remake of Pascal Laugier brutal exercise. Feature one would liken more towards the badger of Colin Dann’s Animals of Farthing Wood series. This is a far more diplomatic creature. The film certainly leans on the original film’s narrative. However, when it does wander off to do its own thing, it does so with an air of sanitation.
Like the original, Martyrs is a movie best watched with little knowledge. It is beneficial for viewers to watch the film cold and allow the film to “reward” you of its revealing moments. For the first half of the film, directors Kevin Goetz, Michael Goetz, ape much of the original. Sometimes, near shot for shot, albeit with a glossier, warmer aesthetic. It’s a look which solidifies the films aim to be “not as grim” as the previous feature. In watching slow motion shots of kids in golden hour bathed grass, one can feel a desire for Martyrs to be more “presentable” for a commercial market. Whether or not this was the aim of the filmmakers, appears to be confirmed from the remake’s scribe Mark L Smith, explaining that his dislike for violence and wish to focus on the film’s relationships.
This brings about on a pivotal change in in the films later stages. One that the film never recovers from. What’s shocking about Martyrs 2008 is its transgressive nature. The film is brutal in its violence, but the horror lies in the reasoning behind its diseased villains. The original’s climax brings around its own demented sense of transcendence. This Martyrs not only shies away from some of the more graphic features of its predecessor, but dampers its final revelations and tilts its focus towards a more optimistic theme of companionship.
The amusing thing is this 2016 remake feels very much like George Sluizer’s “happy” 1993 re-imagining of his own superior feature, The Vanishing (1988), both literally and figuratively. That both features have one of its characters do some dirt crawling in order to bring around a tamer outcome than the original stories, is a fascinating coincidence. It is one, however, that once again highlights the main issue with these cultural crossovers. The American films act like they don’t mind playing in the mud, in reality they don’t want to get too dirty.
Martyrs is released on DVD on April 4th