French writer-director Pascal Laugier’s 2008 Martyrs is a horror film with violence against women so pitiless and unrelenting that one’s memory of the film becomes a blur of red from all the blood. For the American remake, co-directors Kevin and Michael Goetz (Scenic Route) and screenwriter Mark L. Smith (The Revenant) save the hardcore bloodletting for the home stretch, but this Martyrs is still a nasty bit of business.
Lucie (Troian Bellisario), who spent most of her childhood in the hands of brutal kidnappers, has just used a shotgun to commit a quick series of murders at a remote, upscale house. Panicked, she persuades her friend Anna (Bailey Noble) to help bury the bodies, insisting that the people she killed were the ones who held her captive as a child. She’s not wrong, and eventually, a vast, wackadoodle conspiracy is revealed, led by a death-obsessed meanie (Kate Burton, in an epic career low).
The co-directing brothers Goetz prove adept at building escape-the-bad-guy action sequences, but they continually run up against the story’s sadistic underpinnings. And so it comes to pass, in a secret basement torture chamber, that the filmmakers unveil the deadly, shiny toys that are to be used.
Are the directors reluctant to deploy them? Possibly. Nevertheless, they proceed, and what follows proves only that what is repellent in French is equally so in English.
Directed by Kevin Goetz and Michael Goetz
Opens January 22, AMC Empire 25