[Fantasia 2021 Review] MARTYRS LANE
Kiera Thompson as Leah l Shudder
MARTYRS LANE is written and directed by Ruth Platt, starring Kiera Thompson (His Name Was Gerry) as Leah, Sienna Sayer (Silent Witness) as Rachel, Denise Gough (The Other Lamb) as Sarah, Steven Cree (Outlaw King) as Thomas, Hannah Rae (Broadchurch) as Bex, and Anastasia Hille (Snow White And The Huntsman) as Lillian. It is a ghost story set at a vicarage with a lonely girl trying to solve the mystery of a girl with no name who comes to visit her at night.

MARTYRS LANE is an aloof and very chilly story of a family in crisis and a mother who is distant and angry. The anger and guilt simmering below Sarah’s surface affect everyone. The film has a very strong allusion to the biblical story of Leah and Rachel, the unwanted and favored wife of Jacob. Its cinematography from Márk Györi (Katalin Varga) echoes this theme because even during daylight hours, things seem to be slightly dark as if a cloud were hovering over the house and the family constantly. This is in keeping with the themes of the film and done well. It’s as if depression and sadness permeate the scenes of the film, which is one of my favorite parts of MARTYRS LANE. It’s very British, very much the United Kingdom.

The film is quite daring with the theme of a mother so filled with her own grief and so self-absorbed that she neglects everyone else. It’s quite an unsparing portrayal and performance from Denise Gough. She’s an actor who absolutely doesn’t try to curry your sympathy. Gough allows her character to be very unlikable. Kiera Thompson as Leah is wonderful as the intelligent and very hurt child who tries her best to parent her own mother. She’s the one you do feel sympathy for as you should. Even though Thompson is saddled with the child with asthma trope, which I think was unnecessary, she manages to keep the focus on her emotional inner life. Steven Cree is perfect as the father who is doing his best to cope with this situation and trying to remain upbeat without becoming angry or abusive himself. You can see the sadness and the helplessness he feels when he thinks that others might not be watching. It’s really good and likely to be less appreciated because it is quite subtle.

Kiera Thompson as Leah l Shudder

Hannah Rae is almost too convincing as the spiteful and mean older sister. She is very convincing as a troubled adolescent who takes her pain out on her siblings. Some of the later character developments with her character are less convincing, but she’s never less than a real presence as an actor. Kiera Thompson does a very good job at being the mysterious child visitor. At different moments, friendly, weird, and unhappy, she manages to keep enough of a mystery to obscure her origins. You want to like her and trust her as Leah clearly does. As an ensemble, the actors are very well cast, and the casting director Jessie Frost deserves praise for that.

The film is less of a Jamesian tale of potential madness and more of an exploration of how families deal with grief. What can we do when grief overcomes us? How can we help those that we love and ourselves? The power of grief is on full display here and that’s good, because I don’t think that grief is acknowledged in human society as the powerful force that it really is.

I think that, overall, MARTYRS LANE is good and, while admittedly I can’t connect to it as strongly as others might, it has some good things to say to people who need to hear it. It’s a film that people who get too scared by more extreme fare would take to very well. I have a few qualms, like the usage of the child with asthma trope, but I think that it’s a good feature from Ruth Platt, and I would be interested in seeing more of what she has in store for the audience in the future.

MARTYRS LANE had its World Premiere at this year’s Fantasia International Film Festival. The film will be available exclusively on Shudder starting on September 9, 2021.

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