Yes, we are the directors who are crazy, stupid, talented, brave, cowardly and American enough to remake Martyrs, the classic, inspiring cult torture-horror flick from Pascal Laugier.
Yes, that film was French, while ours is American. And yes, we know how to read subtitles. Why do a remake of the film when the paint is barely dry on the 2008 original? When something with such a cult following is remade, there will be a backlash before you can even type the letter “e” in the word “remake.”
For one, we loved the existential quest the first film explored. Secondly, screenwriter Mark L. Smith wrote a phenomenal screenplay that explored “what if” scenarios from the first film’s story, instead of presenting a shot-for-shot remake. Much has been said of Pascal’s intentions to create a viscerally and emotionally demanding journey through torture and human ability to withstand it. But we were attracted to Mark’s vision, which witnesses the relationship between two women, Lucie and Anna, and the lengths they are willing to go for one another in the midst of such torture. And, to be honest, not a huge American audience saw or heard about the 2008 Martyrs. For better or for worse, this remake brings the first film into a new spotlight, all these years later.
We like to think of our film as a reimagining of the first, rather than a remake. We certainly never set out to make a better version of the first film. We set out to create a unique film inspired by the characters and the idea that a human can actually, possibly straddle life and death when duly pushed. This is what we loved about the original and this is why we agreed to tackle its reimagining.
We certainly aren’t going to please everybody. Fans of the original loved it precisely because it was so original. The first film didn’t set out to please, just to exist. That film knocked it out of the park with how far you can push torture and pain cinematically. It was literally breathtaking. But for as many people that loved it, just as many were alienated. This version is definitely a bit more accessible in terms of the graphics; we could certainly never top the original, but we wanted to get across a similar visceral experience, one rooted deeply in character.
All that said, here are some tips for other moviemakers contemplating a remake of a beloved classic.
1. Forget about the original film. Once you have a script, that’s the movie you are making, plain and simple. The original movie was dead us the second we went into the pre-production stage.
2. We never called it Martyrs while we were making it. It was “UMLSP” (“Untitled Mark L. Smith Project”) on the call sheets and the slate all the way through the post-production period. Partially for secrecy, but mainly to remind the crew, the cast, and ourselves that we were making something of our own.
3. Don’t go back and watch the original ever again during production. We each saw the original film only once before our first meeting with our producer Peter Safran.
4. Own it. Think of all the people in the world that have never seen the original Martyrs. This opens the door for many more people to see our version and the original.
5. Have a super-talented writer write the remake.
6. Have a great producer on board.
7. Cast well. This goes for any film, really. Our leads, Troain Bellisario and Bailey Noble, were true champions on this film—they poured their heart and souls into each and every scene.
8. Try and shoot for more than 16 days.
9. Oh, and lastly: Smokey and the Bandit should be remade. MM
Martyrs opens in theaters and on Video on Demand on January 22, 2016, courtesy of Anchor Bay Entertainment.