The Movie Waffler New Release Review [Shudder] - MARTYRS LANE | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review [Shudder] - MARTYRS LANE

martyrs lane review
A young girl uncovers family secrets as she is visited by the spirit of a dead child.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Ruth Platt

Starring: Denise Gough, Steven Cree, Kiera Thompson, Sienna Sayer

martyrs lane poster

Director Ruth Platt's Martyrs Lane belongs to the tradition of films like Spirit of the Beehive, Pan's Labyrinth and A Monster Calls (all of which are curiously Spanish to a large degree). It's another movie in which a child is helped to negotiate a traumatic period by an entity that may or may not have their best interests at heart. By dealing with adult themes like grief and parental neglect through the eyes of a child protagonist, it also recalls the sort of children's TV shows that would regularly play on British TV from the late 1960s to early '90s, an age when exposing children to the potential horrors of life was considered a necessary part of their upbringing and preparation for adulthood.

martyrs lane review

Our young protagonist here is Leah (Kiera Thompson, who could be mistaken for the kid sister of English actress Jessica Barden), a 10-year-old who lives with her chirpy vicar father Thomas (Steven Cree), her grieving, inattentive mother Sarah (Denise Gough) and her bitchy sister Bex (Hannah Rae).

At a loose end over the summer months, Leah begins exploring the grounds of her family's vicarage and uncovers curious bric a brac that seems to have been left for her to find. In the sort of cruel act that children commit for no explainable reason, she steals her mother's precious locket, losing the coil of blonde hair kept within. The reasons for Sarah's grief are never spelled out, until the ending, when they're literally spelled out, but you don't need to be a genius to figure out the source of her grief. I'm not sure why the movie is so coy about such an obvious detail.

martyrs lane review

If the penny doesn't drop early in this regard, it certainly will when Leah stumbles across Rachel (Sienna Sayer), a young girl decked in angel wings who has clearly died a tragic death. That doesn't bother Leah, who befriends Rachel, gradually learning the truth of their connection.

It's easy to see what Platt is trying to do here. It's a sort of reverse A Monster Calls in that here it's not a child being prepared for loss but a child holding the key to a parent moving on from loss. It never quite gels though, chiefly because of its handling of Rachel. Nothing about the resurrected child suggests she has any malevolent intentions towards Leah, which makes the climactic turn into full-on horror come out of nowhere.

martyrs lane review

I can't help think that Martyrs Lane may have functioned better as a straight drama with magic realist elements rather than an outright fantasy piece. The film is arguably at its weakest in the scenes involving the spirit of Rachel, and strongest when we're simply spending time with Leah as she uncovers clues to her mother's psychological state. The young Thompson is a real find and her performance keeps the film anchored as its narrative gets increasingly messy and clouded. Her performance is so strong that it renders the film's fantasy elements superfluous as her eyes and reactions carry the story on their own.

Martyrs Lane
 is on Shudder from September 9th.

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