Shudder UK film review: Martyrs Lane
Thompson and Sayer8
Matthew Turner | On 09, Sep 2021
Director: Ruth Platt
Cast: Kiera Thompson, Denise Gough, Sienna Sayer, Steven Cree, Hannah Rae
Where to watch Martyrs Lane online in the UK: Shudder UK
The third feature from British actress-turned-director Ruth Platt – following The Lesson (2015) and Black Forest (2019) – Martyrs Lane is based on her 2019 short of the same name. Creepy, chilling and emotionally engaging, it’s a compellingly staged child’s-eye-view ghost story anchored by a pair of terrific performances from its two young leads.
Set in a large, isolated vicarage, the film stars Kiera Thompson as 10-year-old Leah, who lives with her caring-but-busy clergyman father (Steven Cree) and her emotionally unavailable mother (Denise Gough), while enduring the daily teasing of her older sister, university-bound Bex (Hannah Rae). Overlooked by her family, Leah begins to hear strange whisperings in the house at night, culminating in regular visits from a mysterious, unnamed girl (Sienna Sayer), who taps at her window every night.
At first, Leah enjoys the company of her new friend, hiding under the covers and playing things like Two Truths and a Lie. However, when the girl persuades Leah to steal her mother’s locket, she uncovers some dark secrets and begins to wonder whether the girl has her best interests at heart.
The production design is extremely impressive, creating an instantly unsettling atmosphere with the vicarage interiors as well as the ever-present iconography. That cleverly plays into the main story – although not presented as overly religious, Leah nonetheless absorbs a passage from the Bible (“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it”) and comes to believe that the girl is her guardian angel.
Platt does a terrific job of presenting the film from Leah’s point-of-view, either from the way she shoots the various angles – many surfaces are pointedly out of Leah’s reach, often forcing her to do dangerous climbs to get at what she wants – or the way the overheard adult dialogue makes it clear that there are things going on in her family that Leah doesn’t yet understand.
To that end, there’s a satisfying drip-feed to the central mystery, which unfolds like a child’s game, with the girl feeding her clues and sending her on quests. It’s fair to say that the audience will likely be several steps ahead of Leah (especially if you’re fond of an anagram), but it’s still enjoyable to watch everything click into place.
Platt maintains the atmosphere throughout, partly through having all the ghostly visitations occur at night, but also through Márk Györi’s moody cinematography, Anne Müller’s effective score and some subtle sound design. She also knows her way around a decent jump scare, without overdoing things in that department.
However, the film’s real strength lies in the phenomenal child performances from Thompson and Sayer. They are simply extraordinary to watch together, balancing each other perfectly – Sayer capricious, mischievous and knowledgeable, and Thompson inquisitive, soulful and heartbreakingly innocent.
If there’s a problem with the film it’s only that it needs a slightly stronger ending. For the rest of the time this is a creepy, frequently moving and accomplished ghost story that confirms Platt as a horror talent to watch.
Martyrs Lane is available to stream online on Shudder UK, as part of a £4.99 monthly subscription, or £49.99 yearly membership.
This review was originally publishing during the 2021 Edinburgh Film Festival.