A beautifully haunting fairytale
Going into the film Martyrs Lane, I didn’t know much other than what the general plot synopsis told me, which was that this was to be a ghost story set in the English countryside in a big old house with children at the center. Since those elements have been key in so many great British horror staples (The Innocents, anyone?), I decided to throw myself into what would hopefully be another fine addition to the genre. I’m pleased to say that it is that; although at the same time it’s not quite that. What Martyrs Lane ended up being was an emotional tale which blended many themes considered staples of the horror genre and explored them in a refreshingly honest and beautiful way.
The main character of Martyrs Lane is Leah (Kiera Thompson), a precocious girl who lives with her minister father Thomas (Stephen Cree), mother Sarah (Denise Gough) and bullying older sister Bex (Hannah Rae) in a small English village. Usually left to her own devices, Leah spends her days feeling lonely and ignored until one day she begins to hear another child’s voice while playing in the woods. The child eventually appears in Leah’s bedroom one night sporting angel wings and a nightgown and introducing herself as Rachel (Sienna Sayer). As the two girls become fast friends, Leah cant’s help but notice how Rachel’s presence has begun to disturb the household.
Ahead of the premiere of Martyrs Lane at Fantasia Fest, it was announced that Shudder had picked up the distribution rights to the film. A few days later, a trailer followed. Despite the news and a well-cut piece of advertising that promises a horror film, I’m afraid to say that Martyrs Lane is not what people will be expecting of it. There are no squeamish moments and no real scenes of intense fear and dread to be found throughout the film. What writer/director Ruth Platt does provide though is an oddly beautiful fairy tale which delves into the childhood experience with the utmost gentleness and honesty. Leah makes for such a compelling protagonist, showing the innocence that comes with so young an age combined with the curiosity inherent in children. While it may not be straight horror, Martyrs Lane does use its supernatural traits effectively, doling out its small share of bumps in the night and strange voices at just the right times to draw both Leah and us further into Rachel’s world. With dreamy cinematography, small comments on faith, grief and growing up, Martyrs Lane is a slightly fantastical escape that ends up being one of the most touching films of this year’s festival lineup.