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Martyrs Lane (2021)

A Chiller with Enough Depth and Emotion to Justify it's Pace

Score 7/10 - Recommended

Posted by Kevin Nickelson | August 12th, 2022

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.

There are the filmmakers who have the intent to deliberately pace a project so as to cement in mood such as is necessary to frame a horror film properly. It is often the dread, the bleakness, the sad pall enveloping characters throughout. It is a gifted helmer who can offer this while still maintaining the crucial pulse of energy via performance and just the right timing insertion of a kill scene or action set-piece to keep viewers engaged. Ruth Platt, director and writer behind the 2021 chiller Martyrs Lane, shows some true skill in writing with characters of layered depth and emotion and knows how to shoot in the ethereal realm, that is of attempting to show life in slow motion. An appropriate way to illuminate a family swallowed whole by grief.

There are few glimmers of happiness in the lives of little 10-year-old Leah and her family, the newest residents of a busy vicarage in a small English village. A den of activity during the day, the home seems quite large and empty at night, leaving Leah to her own devices much of the time. She is visited by a peculiar little girl who claims to be Leah’s guardian angel but may, in fact, be more of a devil than anything. Leah’s new friend pulls the pre-teen into a scavenger hunt for small items around home and grounds that may hold a key to a brutal tragedy in the family closet.

Martyrs Lane is the slowest of slow burns, nearly grinding to a halt at key points in the story. Making matters worse is the dialogue and script have a tendency to meander into something more akin to a treatise on how humans deal with death at just the junctures during the crawl that would benefit most from a burst of ripe verbiage to give a boost. Few exchanges of this type are in the offing. On the plus side, if you can steel yourself to stay focused as the story goes, you will be rewarded with some truly beautiful performances by the lead cast and remarkably detailed set design that alludes more to old world than modern.

With the success of Platt’s 2019 The Black Forest and the nomination for the Edinburgh International Film Festival’s Michael Powell Award, One can see the talent and skill set in every camera shot and new script page. Platt seems to love telling the story that is not easily observed on the surface. It is all about the emotions, the feelings underneath.

She requires more than a bit of understanding the inference as to what is going on, which means a certain level of participation from an audience who may be reluctant to do so. Risky if they are merely seated anticipating escapist horror ghost story fare. To be honest, Martyrs Lane is decidedly less of a ghost story and much more of an intense drama. There is very little in the way of shock moments and nary a blood spurt or sfx creep effect in sight. The best moments here are more the level of unsettling, disturbing and leaving much to ponder once the lights come up.

As to those stellar turns by the cast, Kiera Thompson as Leah and Denise Gough as her mom Sarah are the standouts.

There is very little in the way of shock moments and nary a blood spurt or sfx creep effect in sight.

Thompson has a quiet, contemplative approach to acting. She is the inquisitive child who finds that more can be learned by just observing and keeping silent in the process. Gough is her equal as a woman just shattered by grief into the distant shell of a human. Through her eyes, one can see that she is a ghost gliding through some semblance of existence with nothing in the way of hope or future in front of her.

So, if you are seeking a horror spook show with grisly blood bits and cgi scares, look elsewhere. For those who may want a movie that examines human frailty in the wake of tragedy and our ideas surrounding death and what is next done in more dramatic form than exploitative, Martyrs Lane just might fit your bill. Just be prepared that the ride through may take awhile. Maybe have some coffee on hand to help.

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