Like most people, every year in October the vast majority of the films I watch are from the horror genre. I usually watch a few of my favorites, but usually I try to seek out something new. That desire for the unseen brought me to Martyrs, a 2008 French film that’s part of the New French Extremity wave that birthed films like Haute Tension, and Irreversible. Even though it’s right up my alley, I somehow missed Martyrs. But this year I feel like it’s the one movie that I heard about the most, maybe it’s because there’s going to be a remake. Maybe it was fate. It’s probably because there’s going to be a remake.
BEYOND THIS SENTENCE THERE ARE SPOILERS FOR THE FILM MARTYRS
Before I see a film that I’m really excited about I try to do some research. I don’t want to spoil the film, but when reviews of the film say that the viewer had to turn the movie off, I want to know what I’m getting into. The more I read about Martyrs the more I had to see it. Not only were people saying that the film was hard to watch, people were comparing it to movies like The Babadook and Dancer in the Dark – films that you watch once, admire it for its quality and then never watch it again. Honestly, those comments made me want to watch the movie all the more. When I finally got my hands on a subtitled version of the film I was blown away with how watchable and entertaining the movie actually is. I went in expecting something akin to hostel, but I feel that Martyrs is more of a spiritual successor of the Evil Dead franchise. Specifically Evil Dead 2, which deals with a hero’s mistakes catching up to them. Obviously, there’s no humor in Martyrs, but if there were a modern film that could earn the tagline, “kiss your nerves goodbye” it would be this film.
Despite the incredible violence of the film, and the realism that the effects team strove for, the thing that stuck with me the most was the emotionally taxing exploration of survivor’s guilt. Anyone who’s ever survived an abusive relationship, whether it was with a parent or a significant other will immediately understand the tortured state of Lucie, a character who is hell bent on getting revenge on her childhood tormentors. Throughout scenes of children being shot, Lucie having a cross cut into her back with a straight razor, and the main character pulling steel staples out of an emaciated woman’s head, the scene that wrecked me the most was when the manifestation of Lucie’s guilt forgave Lucie for leaving her chained to a chair to be tortured to death. Obviously things don’t end well for Lucie (or anyone in this film), but that scene reduced me to tears. I’ve never had a horror movie do that to me. There are scary movies that I absolutely love, but none that have put me through such an emotional ringer. By the time the main character was imprisoned, beaten, and flayed open in the name of finding transcendental insight to the afterworld I was game for whatever. Martyrs reached inside me and pulled something out, a feat that I don’t think any other movie has ever accomplished.
News of an American remake gives me pause. I think it’s great that Pascal Laugier’s work will reach a wider audience, but like most remakes I don’t believe that it will have the same impact as the original. My biggest worry about the remake (because I’m the kind of person who worries about things they have zero stock in) is that the film will erase the emotional core that runs through the heart of the film until it’s nothing more than just another piece of torture porn.