FANTASIA 2021 REVIEW: ‘Martyrs Lane’ (2021) is a Chilling Childhood Mystery

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

“A gripping family drama with elements of fantasy and horror”

There’s something about seeing the world through the eyes of a child that causes everything to seem emotionally heightened. The smallest things feel like the most important, and the sense of fear or joy experienced in certain moments increases tenfold. This becomes even more true when supernatural forces threaten to corrupt the wide-eyed innocence of childhood, which is what makes Martyrs Lane truly chilling.

Ruth Platt’s latest film recently made its debut at Fantasia, based off of a 2019 short from the writer and director. The film centers on Leah (Kiera Thompson), an inquisitive 10-year-old girl with asthma. She lives with her parents Sarah (Denise Gough) and Thomas (Steven Cree), as well as her older sister, Bex (Hannah Rae), who often antagonizes her. One evening, after Leah’s curiosity leads her to take a precious item from the locket her mother always wears around her neck, a young girl with crooked angel wings (Sienna Sayer) appears at her window. Leah regards the girl with fascination, inviting her inside the vicarage where she and her family live— a decision that changes everything.

A young girl seen from behind in shadow standing in front of a closed window. A young girl with light hair and a white dress can be seen on the other side of the glass.
Image courtesy of Shudder

As these nightly visits persist, a disturbing series of events ensues within the home, all of which are shown to threaten new life. From the asphyxiation of a baby to the death of newborn bunnies, it becomes evident that there are dark forces at play. Meanwhile, Leah’s nameless visitor continues to leave her clues in the form of the children’s game ‘two truths and a lie,’ which she encourages Leah to play with her. The seemingly insignificant objects Leah unearths — like a missing button or baby teeth — end up leading her in search of answers, with Sarah becoming visibly unnerved in the process. With every piece of the puzzle Leah puts together, she begins to uncover a shocking truth about the past, which the viewer also discovers alongside her. By the time the film’s titular location comes into play, it is too late to turn back, for there is a devastating consequence to Leah’s newfound knowledge. 

While Martyrs Lane is considered a horror film, it relies on creating unsettling moments more than any actual scares. From the disturbance of religious imagery throughout to tense interactions between its characters, the film keeps its audience on edge by invoking this sense of unease. Its haunting instrumental score further adds to the tension, particularly in pivotal moments. While at times it falls into conventional tropes of the genre, the film itself remains engaging enough to feel like it’s telling a new story rather than simply retreading something familiar. 

A blonde woman crying in close-up. She holds a young brunette girl close, with a protective
Image courtesy of Shudder

Thompson is a compelling young lead and she and Sayer play off one another brilliantly, particularly as the dynamic between their characters shifts into something more sinister. Gough also delivers a strong performance as a grief-stricken mother who slowly begins to unravel. Platt’s screenplay itself is well-contrived, its twists and turns thoughtfully executed while the focus never strays from its protagonist’s search for answers. For those seeking a gripping family drama with elements of fantasy and horror, Martyrs Lane is worth taking a trip down.

Cast: Denise Gough, Kiera Thompson, Sienna Sayer

Dir: Ruth Platt

Prod: British Film Institute (BFI), Ipso Facto Productions