5 October 2011

Fin's Review: Martin

I have wanted to see Martin for a long time so I was really excited when Ally brought it to the table on Thursday. I have rarely seen an underground horror film that has been so widely praised and admired. Very few horror films achieve a 96% on Rotten Tomatoes. I'm also a huge fan of Night, Dawn and Day of the Dead so, having read some people argue that Martin is Romero's best film, I was hugely excited. 

I have to say that because of my anticipation I think Martin might be the film I have been most disappointed with at Horror Club to date. I desperately wanted to like it, but unfortunately it turned out to be very, very poor. I'm well aware that George Romero is capable of some real stinkers, with Diary Of The Dead marking a real low point for the director, but I put this to the back of my mind as the film started, certain that this would be Romero working at the peak of his powers. Alas, no. This is a boring, tepid and essentially pointless film. 

Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the film for me was the fact that the set-up for the film is so fascinating. The story concerns Martin, a young man who claims to be a vampire but could just as easily be a mentally unhinged serial killer. Martin does not kill in the traditional vampire fashion (using seduction to get close to a victim before biting the victim's exposed neck). He has absolutely no chance of seducing anyone - he is socially inept, with an awkwardness that reaches autistic levels. Instead, Martin uses an anaesthetic administered through a syringe, following up with a razor once his victim is rendered unconsciousness. Martin has none of the romance or sensuousness of classic vampire lore; instead, his killings are grim, tawdry and depressing. 

However, just as we are about to write off Martin's claim to be a vampire as the ravings of a troubled mind, we are introduced to his equally mad cousin (or is it his uncle? We are never enlightened). Through his cousin/uncle, we are introduced to the back story of Martin's devoutly Catholic family which has been afflicted by the curse of Nosferatu. Martin's uncle views Martin very much in the mould of an old-world vampire and wants to save Martin's soul before destroying his body, in an attempt to stop the genetic curse of vampirism afflicting his family. With a story as unique and as strong as this, it is all the more annoying that Romero cannot follow through and deliver the film the story deserves.

It is hard to pinpoint why Martin doesn't work. It just never ignites and becomes boring worryingly early into the film. Like Ally, I was willing this film to end before it reached the half way mark. Perhaps the main stumbling block for me was Martin himself. He is such a thoroughly unlikeable character I found it impossible to have any sympathy for him. Even if you ignore his murderous actions, he is such a weaselly, sulky teenager. He is also not very interesting, which is amazing considering he is a psychopathic teenage misfit who is also possibly a vampire. 

The fact that Martin ends up being totally boring at the same time as painfully unlikeable can only be an indictment of John Amplas's performance. It is also a major problem - he is on screen for almost the whole film and his performance is so central that it is no surprise that the failure of Martin as character is fundamental to the failure of the film. But it's not just Martin that is boring. The way Romero shoots the film is also dull and lifeless. There is not a single shot that I can think of that stood out as exciting or worthy of mention. To me the film looks very much like a bad, made-for-TV drama from the early 70s. What I found particularly annoying was that after introducing a number of the great ideas mentioned earlier, Romero makes no effort to explore any of them in detail and there is really no plot or story development throughout the film. 

If I have one overriding feeling when thinking about Martin, it is disappointment. A great story and great director which somehow amount to nothing very much.

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