Runtime: 96 minutes
Director: Ruth Platt
Writer: Ruth Platt
Cast: Kiera Thompson, Denise Gough, Sienna Sayer, Hanna Rae
By Harris Dang
“Martyrs Lane” (2021) tells the story of Leah (Kiera Thompson), a young 10-year-old girl who lives with her family up in a rectory. The family is always active in the day, but there is something off with the sense of normalcy, something that has them distant from Leah. Her mother Sarah (Denise Gough) has night terrors while her older sister Bex (Hanna Rae) is going through a rebellious phase that seems to be more than just a coming-of-age moment.
But things get spookier at night, when Leah encounters a child by the name of Rachel (Sienna Sayer), who might be more than just an imaginary friend. The two play a game of “Two Truths, One Lie”, which gradually reveals revelations of both their pasts as well as the buried secret that keeps Leah’s family apart.
“Martyrs Lane” is the latest film from writer/director Ruth Platt, whose debut feature film “The Lesson” (2015) was an engaging exercise in both pressure cooker horror and character interplay. For her latest film, she explores concepts of grief, selective memory and denial through the eyes of a child, resulting in an effective piece of work that just about overcomes its familiar elements in its storytelling.
Platt satiates both genre expectations and introspective drama with efficiency. Her technique in lending scares is well-done, as she makes the scope of the rectory exaggerated as it is through the eyes of a child. Sets look larger than they appear, cameras seemingly swoop great distances, sensory perception through its sound design appears with vibrancy – it is the type of scope that lends the film a strong feel of suggestion that anything could just appear in a supposed place of peace.
The characterizations, as trite as they are written – rebellious teenager, inquisitive child, worrying mother – are given life thanks to the great performances from the cast. Thompson carries the lead role of Leah remarkably well, avoiding the precociousness of many child actors while deftly displaying an emotional intelligence that makes her character genuine, sympathetic and believably flawed.
Sayer is great as Rachel as she lends an enigmatic presence that blurs menace and childishness, making her character hard to predict in terms of character motivations. Gough — a brilliant actress in her own right – lends gravitas in the role of Sarah, finding the perfect balance of being emotionally distant and nurturing while Rae is compelling as Bex as she succeeds in being emotionally guarded and justifiably angsty.
However, the major flaw of the film is that the story is just too derivative and familiar to deliver a true impact in its conclusion. To state prior titles that the film is similar to would be unfair but the sense of predictability does hinder its impact.
That said, Platt and crew have delivered an effectively creepy and dramatically sound piece of work with “Martyrs Lane”. The film still shows Platt doing what she does best, delivering broiling horror found from universal, emotional truths with ample skill through both genre and dramatic sides.
“Martyrs Lane” will be showing at the 2021 Fantasia International Film Festival. Click the picture below to explore the festival program.