The horror genre is a magical one. It seems that more than any other type of film it can be defined in a myriad of different ways, with a richness and vastness of sub-genres that you just don’t get with other kinds of movies. From torture porn, to slasher, the jump scare heavy, to creature feature, there is a horror film for everyone, even if you don’t think it. What is even greater is that those who create horror content have the freedom to move from one sub-genre to another. Take writer and director Ruth Platt for example. Her first feature, The Lesson, told a rather gory – borderline torture porn – psychological drama about a teacher who resorted to extreme measures to get a troublesome student to fall into line. Platt’s latest film, Martyrs Lane, is a more subdued and startling tale of grief, loss, and the dread of night time.
Martyrs Lane revolves around ten-year-old Leah (Kiera Thompson) who lives in the local vicarage with her parents and older sister. During the day, the house is full of life, overflowing with people and activities. With so much happening around her, Leah fades into the background. At night, the building empties, and Leah is left more alone than ever. Then one night she hears a knocking at her bedroom window and finds another young girl (Sienna Sayer) waiting. Unperturbed by the late night caller, Leah strikes up a friendship with the other child. This girl appears to know a lot about Leah and her family, and begins exposing small family secrets that eventually lead to life-altering revelations.
The success of Martyrs Lane rests on the young shoulders of Kiera Thompson, the young actor appearing in almost every scene. Platt’s past career has seen her work as both an actor and a drama teacher, and that work has clearly given her an eye for talent. Thompson gives a commanding and mature performance that is matched by the unnervingly sweet turn by Sienna Sayer as the girl at the window. The two work beautifully together on screen and it’s easy to forget just how young they are.
There is a gorgeous cinematography, score, and sound design to Martyrs Lane, and despite its very bespoke English setting, Martyrs Lane has a strong air of Spanish cinema to it; Spanish cinema is renowned for its sweeping Gothic ghost stories. Platt has clearly taken inspiration and influence from some of the best films such as The Devil’s Backbone and The Orphanage, with Martyrs Lane feeling oddly out of time and otherworldly. Platt moves further into this other realm by dressing Leah’s nocturnal visitor as an angel. The elements twist and distort the dark family history at the core into a haunting fairy-tale that the Brothers Grimm would be proud of. Where Platt’s latest film excels is in how it manages to capture that eerie middle-of-the-night sensation. There’s a stillness and quietness to the young friends’ play dates that ratchets the tension and deadly atmosphere.
Through its quiet and measured approach, Martyrs Lane easily gets underneath the skin, presenting some excellent visuals and stunning sensations. It’s a remarkable piece of work, and one that demonstrates that horror doesn’t have to be “horrifying” to be haunting.
Atmospheric and haunting, in Martyrs Lane Platt has crafted an absorbing, eerie fairy-tale, rooted within tangible and recognisable dark emotions.
Martyr’s Lane is available to watch on Shudder now.
The review first appeared on THN.