Martyrs Lane (2021)
Director (and writer): Ruth Platt
Cast: Kiera Thompson, Sienna Sayer, Denise Gough, Steven Cree, Hannah Rae
Leah, 10, lives in a large vicarage, full of lost souls and the needy. In the day the house is bustling with people; at night it is dark, empty, a space for Leah’s nightmares to creep into. A small, nightly visitor brings Leah comfort, but soon she will realise that her little visitor offers knowledge that might be very, very dangerous. – IMDB
Adapted from her own 2019 short of the same name, Martyr’s Lane is Ruth Platt’s third feature film. This film is a British horror drama which balances the two incredibly well. While on the surface, the motions of a horror film is very apparent, the execution is in both its setting, sound design as well as the multilayered story that gets peeled back like an onion layer after layer to its heartbreaking fairy tale-esque supernatural ghost story.
Martyr’s Lane carried a wonderful script and premise. Nothing screams horror film as effectively as using children as their center, this one takes on two. The first is Leah (Kiera Thompson), the main protagonist living on this vicarage with her parents and her sister who right away realize that her relationship with them as a distance. Whether its the sibling rivalry between her and her older sister or the most loving teaching from her father or the quiet and distanced relationship to her mother, leaving her feeling lonely. Until she takes something from her mother that causes a lot of unexplained distress and she ends up losing it right when a little girl wearing wings (Sienna Sayer) comes to her window claiming that she’s an angel in the making and gives her nightly tasks to find what she has lost. These two little girls are the heart of the film. As young as they are, they are very smooth in their roles carrying the naivety that they should have but also being able to build their characters one visit after the next as these tasks start to reveal a more dangerous motive.
Leah’s nightly tasks takes her on an adventure as she moves around the vicarage grounds and discovers hidden little pieces. Some places being more hidden than the other. As she keeps looking, she starts finding little trinkets which start to piece together who used to be. These little clues are key to the story and each one increasing in danger as the simple game of 2 truths and one lie starts making these two little girls’ friendships grow. Much like her little tasks makes the vicarage grounds and her home a prominent setting to be in. There are horrors in the background unknown to Leah but the audience sees the fleeting figure in the distance that seems to be observing from a distance. While this sounds like most horror tropes, Ruth Platt executes them really well by building up the atmosphere to be increasingly unsettling and pairing it with some great sound design.
Ghost stories at this point are a dime a dozen nowadays. Its such an overused tropey category for the most part but Martyr’s Lane is different. Similar to a lot of other films at this edition of Fantasia, it breathes new life to a familiar horror subgenre by creating a thoughtful balance between horror and drama and adds in a hint of mystery and hidden secrets to put it all together. There are so many little elements worth discussing in Martyr’s Lane and yet, the film’s gradual reveal is one that is well worth discovering so less talk to keep this completely spoiler-free. While I haven’t watched Ruth Platt’s previous two features (but will definitely catch up sooner rather than later), her storytelling abilities and directorial finesse is one to absolutely look out for in the future.
*Martyrs Lane has its world premiere at Fantasia Film Festival on August 19th. It also will be landing on Shudder on September 9th.*