Runtime: 96 Minutes
Writer/Director: Ruth Platt
Stars: Kiera Thompson, Steven Cree, Denise Gough, Hannah Rae
By Bianca Garner
Grief has often been a subject best explored by the horror genre. Take for instance, “The Babadook”, or “Hereditary”, both these films delved deep into the impact of grief and loss in the form of a chilling supernatural horror flick. Like “The Babadook” and “Hereditary”, Ruth Platt’s latest film, “Martyrs Lane” also explores the themes of grief and loss. Released via Shudder, this supernatural film is very much like a macabre fairy-tale for adults, with the main premise being a young girl becoming friends with a ghostly child who sends her on a treasure hunt to discover her true identity. This is the third film from actress-turned-director Ruth Platt (following the 2015 horror “The Lesson” and the 2019 comedy-drama “Black Forest”) is based on a short film, also titled “Martyrs Lane”. With her latest feature film, Platt demonstrates that she has adapted to the role of director quite easily and that she is very capable of being in the director’s chair.
10-year-old Leah (Kiera Thompson) lives in a creepy old house with her parents and older sister. Her father (Steven Cree) is the village’s vicar and seems occupied with his duties, and isn’t always immediately available for his family. Leah’s mother, Sarah (wonderfully played by Denise Gough) is cold and distant. Leah has disturbing dreams at night, where she seems drawn to her mother’s locket and strange visions of another young girl (Sienna Sayer) with wings. One day she decides to steal her mother’s locket only to discover inside there’s a lock of blonde hair, which she loses, much to her mother’s dismay.
After taking a shortcut home with her older sister Bex (Hannah Rae), Leah stumbles across the same girl from her dreams, who seems icy cold to the touch and claims to be lost, but mysteriously vanishes without a trace. However, Leah’s new friend makes a return. She wakes Leah up by floating outside her window, knocking on the glass. Leah doesn’t seem scared or alarmed by this new friend, and instead the two of them get along quite well. They play a game of “Two Truths, One Line” and her new friend also tells her of a way to get the lock of hair back. However, as the treasure hunt and the games continue, Leah becomes aware that maybe her new friend is the angel she claims to be and that there’s something possibly more sinister at play.
“What really stands out are the film’s performances. Gough is fantastic in her role, effectively balancing the role of a caring mother alongside someone who is cold, distant and almost frightening at times.”
There’s much to marvel at with “Martyrs Lane”. Firstly, the story is cleverly simple and straightforward without being too overly complicated. All the best ghost stories have nice, neat and easy to follow plots, which build on tension and suspense. Whilst, the film isn’t too intense in terms of the scare factor, there’s enough jump scares and creepy moments which leave a lasting impact. The brilliant use of sound design and mixing, helps to build on the film’s chilling atmosphere, with eerie whispers and creaking floorboards. This is all perfectly accompanied by Anne Müller’s score.
The film’s production design is also noteworthy. The house is its own character, full of history and architecture. It’s not your usual ‘haunted house on a hill’ but gives enough of an impression that there’s something unsettling residing inside. Each room can appear bright and full of life in one shot, only to be transformed into something sinister in the next shot. The cinematography is also fantastic. Cinematographer Márk Györi, experiments with some creative angles and shots in order to unsettle the viewer without coming across as too pretentious.
What really stands out are the film’s performances. Gough is fantastic in her role, effectively balancing the role of a caring mother alongside someone who is cold, distant and almost frightening at times. In less than capable hands, this role could have easily been played too melodramatically but Gough makes the character feel real and very empathetic. However, it is the two young actresses who really stand out. Sayer manages to look sweet and innocent whilst coming across as something unnatural and haunting. Thompson really shines as Leah, and presents us with a very believable character, who is desperately lonely and feeling rejected from her family.
“Martyrs Lane” may have a few small issues in terms of its pacing, and isn’t going to be for die-hard horror fans. However, it’s a delightful horror film which is less about big jump scares and gore, and more about creating a compelling character study of the impact of grief on all members of a family. It will leave you in tears by the end and its imagery will haunt you for days afterwards. Cracking stuff.
Martyrs Lane will stream exclusively to Shudder on September 9 in the US, Canada, UK, Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand, as well as via the Shudder offering within the AMC+ bundle where available.
You can also check out Harris Dang’s Review here.