Pascal Laugier's 2008 French-Canadian film, "Martyrs
," is a cinematic watermark, one of the twenty-first century's defining works of the horror genre. Unblinkingly brutal, psychologically terrifying, and ultimately unshakable in its thematic search for no less than the existence of God, the picture is not for the easily shaken, yet rewarding for those who stick with it. It was only a matter of time before a U.S. remake was tackled, and many of the trepidations fans may have had upon hearing this news are, as it turns out, warranted. This English-speaking 2016 redux takes its predecessor
's basic blueprint, but softens its edges, clunkily relies on exposition to spell out its plot, and truncates the story's timeline to such a degree it only serves to make its final scenes all the more preposterous. Mark L. Smith, who also wrote 2015's astonishing "The Revenant
," might want to consider burying this credit on his resumé, while directors Kevin Goetz and Michael Goetz (2013's "Scenic Route") bring nothing fresh or special to their achingly inferior version. Indeed, just about every alteration made to this retelling of "Martyrs" is the wrong one.
Ten years after narrowly escaping her abusive captors, a now-grown Lucie (Troian Bellisario) has tracked down the married couple responsible, slaughtering not only them, but also their two teenage children. Lucie summons skeptical best friend Anna (Bailey Noble) to help her dispose of the bodies, but setting herself free from the nightmares of her past is not as easily achieved as she expects. Stalked by a violent, badly disfigured wraith who may or may not be real, Lucie risks succumbing to her inner demons as she and Anna move closer to an unimaginable fate worse than anything they've known.
In an attempt to be more accessible to the American masses, "Martyrs" divorces itself from logic and sense. This is particularly true during the film's lame second half as Lucie's fate is changed and the makers condense a character's long, bleak, harrowing path toward martyrdom down to what seems to be a single day. Based upon the rules established within the narrative, the conclusion is insulting and contradictory, a sack of jumbled spare parts without the focus, care or understanding of what the original "Martyrs
" was trying to achieve. Performances from Bailey Noble (HBO's "True Blood"), as Anna, and Kate Burton (2012's "Liberal Arts"), as the intimidating matriarchal Eleanor, are solid, while the central Northern California location where much of the action takes place proves effectively sinister in its picturesque lonesomeness. This is where the compliments end. "Martyrs" is soft and calculated and really rather dumb, not a fraction as effective as its source material on any level. Whatever purpose this film has for existing is indecipherable.