I used to be really annoyed with remakes, the idea of them, the execution of them, all of it. Then I realized something, I was being silly. Remakes can be good, remakes can be bad. Movies can be good, movies can be bad. See the correlation? While I’m not foolish enough to believe a remake is never made for the sole purpose of profit mongering on the shoulders of an adored property, it doesn’t really affect film. A film is a film, and it should be judged as such. All other considerations, including remake vs. original property, are nebulous and ultimately pointless. That is why I made no attempt to rewatch the original Martyrs before sitting down for the Martyrs remake. So if one is looking for a side-by-side comparison this is not the review for them. With that in mind, there are a few stark differences in approach that probably should be noted.
Firstly, from my flawed and faded memory, this Martyrs seems quite a bit more hopeful than the original. Secondly, this version seems far more intent on explaining motives and actions than the original. Thirdly and finally, this film seems noticeably more divorced from the depiction of violent acts. While all of that is interesting in a broader. “film school”, discussion of film from different countries and from different eras, it really adds nothing to the discussion of this film on a micro-level.
This Martyrs, when taken as its own film, is a film about hope, desperation, and bonds that straddle the divide between the living and the dead. I know that seems hefty for a short horror film, but there it is. This film spends a large portion of its running time observing our two protagonists, played by Troian Bellisario and Caitlin Carmichael, experiencing their lives and developing their damaged and complicated friendship. To be honest, a large portion of the “horror” of this film doesn’t happen until the latter third of the film.
In between those horror moments is the exploration of how far you would go to help a friend, a friend you have grown with and experienced most of your life with. Would you follow them into the darkest corners of humanity, trusting that they were noble and truthful in their motivations? Or would you betray their trust in the name of what seems to be the more universally humane path?
Everything that is interesting in Martyrs lies here. The reveal of the “baddies” and their motivation is two-dimensional whilst somehow managing to be cartoonish. There is nothing particularly compelling or interesting to this arc. The real meat of Martyrs lies in its two leads and their journey through compassion, support, and friendship. Everything in that arc is multi-dimensional, layered and complicated. This is what keeps Martyrs and interesting film.
So if an audience member is looking for a film that explores the level of on-screen gore will be sorely disappointed here. This Martyrs is more interested, and somewhat successful, in its exploration of its two main characters. The gore is minimal, the torture is muted, and the ending offers a bit of hope.