Writer-director Pascal Laugier’s 2008 French horror film “Martyrs” has a well-earned reputation as one of the scariest, goriest movies ever made — so extreme that it pushes past exploitation into art. The new American remake from screenwriter Mark L. Smith (“The Revenant”) and directors Kevin and Michael Goetz sells a softer version of Laugier’s vision. The result is pointlessly repellent.
Bailey Noble stars as Anna, a compassionate young woman who’s shocked when her childhood best friend, Lucie (Troian Bellisario), murders a kindly doctor and his well-to-do middle American family, claiming that they were responsible for imprisoning and torturing her when she was a girl. Anna doubts Lucie — until she’s abducted and beaten herself by a related cult.
The movie’s title refers to the cult’s stated goal: to study the spiritual awareness that allegedly awakens within women as they “endure the unspeakable sins of the Earth.” To that end, pretty much the entire last half-hour of “Martyrs” consists of characters being punched, shocked, flayed and shot.
Smith and the Goetzes have taken liberties with Laugier’s plot, shuffling the order of events and changing which characters live or die. And while the violence is relentless in the final third of the new “Martyrs,” it’s much less explicit than the French version.
Yet it looks uglier, because the remake doesn’t alter the material substantially enough to give it fresh meaning. Without that reason to be, the movie feels like a thin excuse to show image after image of women being abused. This “Martyrs” has the bones of its predecessor, but it’s been bled dry.
MPAA rating: None
Running time: 1 hour, 26 minutes
Playing: TCL Chinese 6, Hollywood