The Problem With Remakes

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I haven’t blogged for quite a while and was waiting for a subject I could really get my teeth into and its something I’ve been thinking about since seeing the Evil Dead remake (which, for the record, I rather liked).  Remakes are a hot topic at the moment because they, alongside reboots, sequels and prequels seem to be monopolising the horror genre at the moment.  There is fiercely original stuff coming out of the independent and festival circuit though and for me, that’s where I go if I want to see something I’m proud to recognise as horror.

That’s not to say I totally hate any horror that’s shown in a multi-plex though.  I caught and rather enjoyed Sinister on DVD not so long ago and saw the Evil Dead remake in the cinema and have seldom stopped thinking about some of the imagery within it.  So I don’t want this blog to just say that remakes are bad, because they aren’t.  The Maniac remake has been receiving rave reviews since it hit festivals last year.  Even remakes that seem pointless aren’t necessarily bad – for example Haneke helming two Funny Games  within 10 years of one another that were shot-for-shot.  In saying that though, I understand totally why he chose to do it.  If he hadn’t, they would have brought in another director and done what they liked to it and that would have been wrong, simply because it was Haneke’s story to tell in that way.

This is sort of how I feel about the rumoured Martyrs remake.  A potential director has already stated that there will be a glimmer of hope in the ending, which has angered some.  However, and I’m not sure I’ll get many to agree with me on this but for me, there is already a glimmer of hope in Martyrs (I don’t want to get into spoilers about it here, but am happy to explain to anyone currently shaking their head and spitting about the idea over Twitter or whatnot).

Already showing signs of having a heavy lick of Hollywood gloss applied to it through the comments made by that potential director though is disheartening.  What works about Martyrs is that it is brutal, unrelenting and unapologetic for everything it puts its audience through.  Giving it the Hollywood ending would make it a different film and I just don’t see how it would ‘fit’.  Of course, I could just be being reactionary.  He could have been joking and maybe he’ll have nothing to do with the final project.  *crosses fingers*

The problem with remaking something like Martyrs is that, like Haneke’s Funny Games it is Pascal Laugier’s story to tell and he’s done that.  Powerfully.  How does anyone even begin to adapt that, from a writing or directing point of view?  I’ll also add here my assertion that Martyrs is an incredibly French film.  This is not to say superior to American, but it is different.  It follows different codes and conventions.  It is not just an issue of subtitling, but aesthetics, style and pacing.  For example, Laugier’s follow-up The Tall Man (recognised as a French-Canadian production) tends to follow the American structure and ends up a confused mess with some really interesting ideas within it as it tries to force too many things into too short a time.

Now, I’m going to try to look at it from the other side and this, really is what makes me sad about remakes.  What does it say to cinema-goers that American productions are looking to European or past ideas to adapt?  For me, it says they don’t have enough faith in the ideas of their own talented film-makers and if, as a film-maker your main system doesn’t trust you, then why try?  Why not do remakes if that’s what you’re offered?  It brings the money in and film-making is an expensive and fickle business.  Some might see that as selling out, but isn’t it just self-preservation?  Also, I’d consider that someone having success with a remake may have a better chance of being able to construct one of their own original ideas with the backing of a major studio.

In terms of themes too, American mainstream horror could do with a lot of the themes of Martyrs and I’m sure there are people out there who could make a film utilising those themes that would be good.  I think I would enjoy an American horror that talks about enduring female friendship (oh so many films in many genres always pit women against one another), humanity, cruelty, belief and everything in between.  However, would I like to see that film if it was called Martyrs?  I’d say no, at the moment at least.  I would likely be too busy comparing every moment to the original as it is so striking, the performances so perfect and even small things like a piece of music being missing could distract me from it.  I would rather watch a different film and be occasionally reminded of Martyrs.  I am though, a self-confessed Martyrs obsessive, so I can’t speak for those who haven’t seen the film before, or even those who didn’t like it.

Of course, its worth ending everything written about remakes with the simple statement that just because a film is remade, that remake doesn’t wipe away the original.  The original of any remade film still exists to be cherished, terrified by and admired by those who love it.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this rather long and rambling stream.  As always, you can contact me on Twitter (@caitlynmdowns) and you can also email caitd@scaredsheepless.com

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