Fantasia Film Festival 2021: Martyrs Lane

A dependable ghost story enhanced by two great child actor performances.

Synopsis: 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.

Already snatched up by Shudder for release on the platform, Ruth Platt’s Martyrs Lane is a pretty typical, if capably handled English ghost story. The atmosphere calls to mind the kind of sad, yet strangely cosy Christmas offerings we often have on UK television and it would be easy to see it expand into three separate episodes with the addition of a few more scares or back story.

Much of the film rests on an engaging performance from Kiera Thompson as Leah. Despite her youth, she contributes an excellent, likeable performance as a girl who finds herself with an unexpected new friend in Rachel (an equally impressive Sienna Sayer). The pair strike up a bond, sharing a game in which they share truths and lies, but Rachel could be the key to uncovering an unhappy secret at the heart of the home. These scenes set up a great deal of atmosphere where the balance between childish conversation tips into something more sinister and back again. The control that writer-director Ruth Platt has over the tone keeps everything calm, allowing the mysteries to unfold steadily.

Away from the children’s performances, mention must be made of Denise Gough as Sarah. There is a palpable discomfort every time she is on screen, framed as a monstrous, distant figure through Leah’s eyes and a figure of fear to the adults too, for fear that a wrongly worded statement can trigger such great upset. Her anger and fragility operate alongside the other balances between innocence and darkness.

Martyrs Lane is an honest film, viewed primarily through the eyes of a child. This means there are not many surprises in how this unfolds, but that switched perspective does allow for a more whimsical, even gentle, take on the ghost story. This isn’t to play down the effectiveness of the scares, however, with quiet uncanny moments taking on an almost ethereal quality in places. This is a gradual uncovering rather than a reliance on rug-pull, abrupt twists.

Martyrs Lane is a deftly crafted ghost story with emotive performances that feels slightly too typical to have a lasting impact.

3 out of 5 stars

3 out of 5 stars

Martyrs Lane played as part of Fantasia 2021.

Author: ScaredSheepless

Film and television fan, with a particular love for horror.

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