Tuesday, September 07, 2021

Martyr’s Lane, on Shudder

Little Leah's home life is so awful, the arrival of a ghost almost brings some relief—almost, but not really. Nobody in her family listens to her, so she will be on her own when she makes a ghostly “friend” in Ruth Platt’s Martyr’s Lane, which premieres Thursday on Shudder.

Leah’s father, a parish vicar (his vicarage incorporates the titular sight of a historic massacre), is a reasonably conscientious father, but he is rarely present and available. Unfortunately, her mother is so neurotic, some days she simply cannot function properly. Her older sister Bex bullies her relentlessly, or at least that is how Leah sees it. She could use a friend, so she is receptive when an angelic-looking girl mysteriously knocks on her window. The unnamed girl even has a pair of costume wings.

However, their nocturnal play-dates soon take a sinister turn. Leah desperately hopes to find her mother’s treasured memento that she accidentally lost. Yet, every time the weird little girl gives her a clue through a game of two-truths-and-a-lie, it sends Leah off on a fruitless wild goose chase.

Based on
Martyr’s Lane and her previous horror film, it is clear Ruth Platt has a knack for absolutely raking her characters over the coals. The Lesson was much more violent, often viciously so, but in that case, it was teenagers getting brutalized. Frankly, it is a lot easier to take teens enduring violence, because they kind of have it coming, than watching little Leah enduring all kinds of abuse and terror. As a result, Martyr’s Lane can be uncomfortable to watch.

On the other hand, when it finally comes together,
Martyr hits home hard. Viewers will probably deduce its secrets quicker than Leah, but her process for connecting the dots is a critical part of the film. Kiera Thompson is excellent as young Leah, while Denise Gough is harrowing to behold as her troubled mother. Yet, it is Hannah Rae who will really surprise viewers down the stretch, as her sister Bex, who might not be as bad as we assumed.

Whether you consider
Martyr’s Lane proper folk horror or not, it definitely has a folky look and texture. Cinematographer Mark Gyorl nicely conveys a child’s nightmarish perspective. It is a truly sinister (and eventually exhausting) mood piece. Recommended (with mild child-protective reservations), Martyr’s Lane starts streaming Thursday (9/9) on Shudder.