There comes a point while watching a really bad film when you automatically disengage, stare dead-eyed through the screen, or at a dark spot in the cinema, and start mentally making a shopping list or reminisce about happier times. But what’s fascinating about experiencing this during the remake of Martyrs, is the cathartic sensation that follows it. A realisation of the synergy between the agony you are experiencing and what the main characters are going through on the screen.
Where Pascal Laugier’s original wrung energy from the script and performances, excavating obdurate terror and bloodshed for an uncompromising horror masterpiece, this flat-pack reimagining is agonisingly hack. It swags the screen like a bad bank commercial, derelict of anything beyond its hope for high profits. Yet oddly from the shrill monotony, sterile story-telling, dejected characters and inert execution, this abstract enlightenment oddly makes Martyrs a tiny bit more than a trite reimagining, but a monotonous one, nonetheless.
The story centres around best friends Lucie (Troian Bellisario) and Anna (Bailry Noble), who meet as children while at Convent school. Anna is reserved, Lucie is outgoing but the two accept their differences and, as common loners, become pals. Years later and Anna has budded into a raging psychopath, scarred by the horrors she endured as a child. In her twisted state, Anna seeks revenge on the couple who once kidnapped and tortured her, and so tracks them down (with a shot-gun) to their opulent country home with murderous intent.
In an attempt to save Anna and the family, Lucy follows, but inadvertently discovers something much more terrifying beneath the house. While a principal villain scans the eyes of her victims in the hope of finding an insight into the meaning of existence, as a viewer, you unwittingly realise what she is looking for is, at that moment, residing in yourself: hopelessness, despair and concentrated monotony. This inadvertently makes Martyrs a transgressive phenomenon, but only (paradoxically) because it is rubbish.
It’s the cinematic equivalent of sitting in a bin and regretting everything you’ve ever done with your life, but despite the presumably hollow incentive behind this remake’s existence, it’s commendable for the director to at least try and do something different with the content: just unfortunate the variations are so abhorrently futile and flimsy. The original Martyrs is an intoxicating horror tour de force, to be ranked alongside the likes of The Shining, The Exorcist and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but because it is not as well-known as those other horror classics, there was little outcry when a remake was announced. Like many other remakes, this doesn’t need to exist.