Directed by Ruth Platt.
Starring Kiera Thompson, Denise Gough, Sienna Sayer.
Horror, UK, 96 minutes.

Streaming on Shudder from 9th September


Martyrs Lane tells the story of ten-year-old Leah. Growing up in a small and quiet English town’s vicarage with her parents and big sister. Often found standing quietly out of sight, unnoticed by the adults around her in the midst of various church events such as fundraisers, Leah also finds herself at odds with her increasingly distant and short-tempered mother. When she steals her mother’s gold locket Leah soon finds herself being visited at night by Rachel, a small girl who appears at her bedroom window wearing a tattered pair of angel’s wings. What starts off as a playful relationship increasingly takes on a dark edge as Leah’s small friend starts to challenge her and hint at a dark truth at the heart of her family.


Writer and director Ruth Platt delivers a very English ghost story here. With its large, dark and near empty vicarage located by a large autumnal forest Platt’s ghost story recalls the ghost stories that were once a staple of seasonal BBC programming in the nineteen seventies and eighties. Where the likes of The Conjuring franchise and its numerous spin-offs throw their ghosts at the screen with all manner of jumps and scares pitched at a deafening volume, Martyrs Lane delivers its spectral events in a much more measured and quiet manner that eventually pays dividends by the films end.


The nightly appearance of Rachel tapping at Leah’s bedroom window recalls the floating vampiric figure of Danny Glick from Tobe Hooper’s adaptation of Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot but as indicated before this a more sustained affair far more interested in exploring the mysteries of adulthood from a child’s point of view. The spectre of mental health is raised at various points, not in relation to Leah but to her mother’s mood swings and near animosity to her offspring as well as her own night terrors. Platt frames these events sensitively but at ninety-six minutes this exploration as well as its main supernatural plot is stretched quite thinly. A sense of repetition becomes quite apparent with its repetitive scenes of Leah being sent on small, yet meaningful, tasks by her ghostly friend.


The viewer’s attention is held mainly by the strength of its performances. As Leah, Kiera Thompson delivers an assured performance; always believable in her behaviour and never coming across as mannered or false. Her performance, along with that of Denise Gough as her mother, also comes across similarly without delving into the histrionics that would pop up in a less sensitively handled film.


For a ghost story there is little here that will chill the viewer. However, Platt delivers a climax that makes the whole film worthwhile. Both surprisingly dark yet emotional it resonates with the viewer long after the end credits have rolled. Martyrs Lane may be more successful as a dark psychological family drama than as a ghost story but it proves that when its writer and director follows through on her darker instincts the results are highly impressive and its young lead gives one of the more impressive child performances seen in a horror film in quite some time.


Iain MacLeod.


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