Racked in pent up grief, “Martyrs Lane” is a beautiful yet heartbreaking ghost story that at times takes your breath away, paced to perfection. Told through the eyes of the brilliant Kiera Thompson, this is a film that you cannot miss out on.
The rambling vicarage where lonely ten-year-old Leah (Kiera Thompson) lives is a magnet for homeless and needy parishioners, who monopolise her mother’s (Denise Gough) time. As a result, she is overlooked by her busy parents, bullied by her older sister (Hannah Rae), and becomes delighted when she makes a new friend (Sienna Sayer). But when she is taken into taking something that doesn’t belong to her, she sets off a train of events that may make her worst nightmares come true.
Grief hits us all in different ways, and that is never more evident than in Ruth Platts “Martyrs Lane”. It can cause you to focus on other things, get lost in your work to distract yourself from it all or become angry and resentful to everyone. But, of course, for some, you can never shake it, you are almost numb from it all, and you can never recover. This is where we meet our characters, with some living and breathing but not living their lives due to the pain that still resides within them in this atmospheric supernatural horror.
As with films like “Relic” and the underrated “Greenhouse”, Platt makes her horror elements work very well yet still keep to her central theme that isn’t explicitly horror related intact. We are equally crushed for these characters as we are concerned about their safety, which is tone that is very hard to get right. Trauma is always challenging to show on screen in this manner, and the entire team in “Martyrs Lane” have done wonders to accomplish that here. This film is so full of emotion and heavy themes that you almost forget that it is also a ghost story, so when events begin to take a darker turn, you feel unprepared for it and for what is to come.
You will hear this often in discussions about “Martyrs Lane”, but young actors Kiera Thompson and Sienna Sayer run away with this film. They stagger with their performances, and much like Shudders “The Boy Behind the Door”, we are seeing some truly stellar performances from young actors this year in genre films. There are complex and heavy themes being presented here, and both do amazingly well to convey them. Especially so when it comes to Thompson, who is in practically every scene of the film, she can do so much.
What is done so well here is how well the reveal and story is presented. Sure, we can guess it all early on, but that doesn’t stop it from affecting us all the same as Leah gets more clues about who her nighttime friend is. Added to this the increasingly precarious tasks presented to Leah and her friend’s ever-worsening mental and physical state. The film takes off from its slow start to end up being paced effortlessly well. The sense of dread works its way into the film insidiously as more and more clues are revealed. As the danger and worry for Leah rise with the audience, we hold our breath to discover the truth finally.
There is a quiet yet poignant scene midway through the film where Leah and her mother talk after Leah gives her something. The sun is just about breaking through the foliage-covered windows, and it is gorgeous. Yet, the physical actions we see is utterly heartbreaking, as the hidden meaning behind the object takes its toll on Sarah. Scenes like this are rife throughout Martyrs Lane, with little conversations with hidden and important implications, making the film impressive.
What also shines through in the film is how much care and attention has gone into the film, not only with how well the film amps up the tension but with the small things that could easily go unnoticed. Production Designer Gini Godwin and Art Directors May Davies and Jack Hawthorn have taken great lengths to create a timeless quality to the film. For example, you could easily struggle to pinpoint when the film was set without the odd object used. Also, rooms look lived in by these characters; Leah’sLeah’s room looks like a little girl’s room considering the house she resides in. It feels authentic, which makes the audience feel the way they do as the film progresses.
Listen, it would be easy to go on endlessly about this film, but it is better if you just see it to believe it. “Martyrs Lane” is an exceptionally good film that will cling to you for a while after watching a ghost story with multiple layers and performances that surprise you. Ruth Platt has made a special film that will connect for different reasons to audiences. So watch this film immediately, and luckily for you, if you cannot catch it on August 21st (link here), it will be released on Shudder in early September.
For UK audiences, it should be noted that “Martyrs Lane” is also showing during the Edinburgh International Film Festival; please see that information here too!
For more of our coverage of Fantasia Fest 2021, have a gander below! We will update each day!
Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched: A History of Folk Horror
Haute tension sur les internets – Les Fantastiques week-ends du cinéma Québécois – Short films, Fantasia Fest 2021
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