After screening at the 2021 Fantasia Film Fest, Ruth Platt’s Martyrs Lane was scooped up for distribution on Shudder. With the streaming service having recently picked up standouts in nuanced horror with Bleed With Me and The Advent Calendar, there seemed to a trend towards appeasing a larger variety of horror fans. As such, I was excited to check out Martyrs Lane and dive deep into the supernatural haunting of a family.
What Is It About?
“In this unsettling ghost story, Leah, 10, lives in a large, old house with her family but can’t quite work out why her mother seems so distant. At night she is visited by a mysterious guest, who might be able to give her some answers. With a new challenge every night, Leah is rewarded with bits of knowledge that, when pieced together, threaten to shine a dangerous light on both the truth in her nightmares and of the world she lives in.”
Exploring profound loss and the lies we structure to keep ourselves safe, Martyrs Lane is an emotionally charged piece of gothic horror. Arguably, the success lies within the masterful conveyance regarding the wonderment of youth – a child’s ability to see reality differently and embrace the fantastical. Essentially, Leah works as an idyllic protagonist in both embracing the fantastical and having a desire to understand her mother’s sadness.
In addition, the horrors that befall Leah are dread inducing as they are happening to a child. Only containing a few sequences meant to frighten the audience, the sense of unease comes from it happening to a child – a vulnerable kind of character for whom we feel protective instinct. Granted, the scares are minimal and it is impossible to discuss without spoilers, but there are instances where Leah is confronted by nightmarish images that should never be inflicted onto an innocent child – it is deeply unsettling.
Technically, the productions visuals and sound design perfectly match the gothic horror aesthetic. Long sweeping shots, darkened rooms and focus on the environment provide the film a dark personality that is smooth for the viewer’s immersion. In particular, Leah’s late night visits from the ghostly child are beautifully realized through set, lighting and cinematography, transforming the safety of the bedroom into a haunting confined space.
Tying everything together is solid performances through the entire family; young girl, troubled teen, stressed father and traumatized mother all feeling like a believable and cohesive family unit. Notably, the performances of Kiera Thompson, as Leah under the direction of Platt, manages to bring sympathy towards the 10 year old’s plight – a feat often hard to pull off when dealing with child actors.
What Does Not Work?
The pacing is going to be the major issue for most, particularly with how light of a horror film this is. The pacing is borderline tedious, and the lack of horror until later in the production makes the genre attachment feel misplaced. Furthermore, the ‘dark fairytale’ theme has been done to greater effect with genre fans, standouts such as The Babadook being one prominent example (a film already divisive due to slow pacing). As such, the film is only for the most patient horror fan and one that cherishes drama over scares. Honestly, even calling the film ‘horror’ feels misleading when considering the overall execution.
Where Can I Watch It?
Martyrs Lane has been picked up as a Shudder exclusive and will be available to stream from September 9th, 2021.
Martyrs Lane takes the traumas of a family and transforms it into a deeply unsettling supernatural horror. It is a film that places family drama at the forefront, any elements of horror meant to advance drama opposed to frightening the audience. As such, the title will hold greater appeal to those who love classic gothic stories and literature over the familiar genre structure – the audience will be niche.
Ultimately, the focus on a family at the breaking point, explored through the eyes of a child as she faces the supernatural, makes for a deeply engaging story that is gut wrenchingly tragic. For me, the film excelled in its intended delivery, but I would be very selective of who to recommend it to. Regardless, if the words above hold any sway or pique your interest, the title is worth checking out.
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