The Atmospheric Martyrs Lane (2021) is Gateway Horror that Grapples with Grief
Title: Martyrs Lane
First Non-Festival Release: September 9, 2021 (Digital/Streaming Platform)
Director: Ruth Platt
Writer: Ruth Platt
Runtime: 96 Minutes
Starring: Kiera Thompson, Sienna Sayer, Denise Gouh
Where to Watch: Check out where to find it here
Leah leads a quiet life as a ten-year-old trying to avoid the taunting of her sister and yearning for the affection of her parents. After taking a lock of hair from her mother’s locket, Leah (Kiera Thompson) begins having troubling nightmares and visits from a peculiar child (Sienna Sayer) that climbs into her window at night. They play games, share stories, and talk about the things that Leah’s family refuses to acknowledge. Leah must solve the mystery behind these strange events and how it connects back to the locket if she wants to heal her family.
More haunting than terrifying, Martyrs Lane shows the full story of when a child meets a ghost.
Light on horror but heavy on hurt, Martyrs Lane is a great gateway horror film for those wishing for something more unsettling than terrifying. The mystery takes a while to unfold, even if the audience has a feeling of what happened, they are kept in the dark on details. Martyrs Lane is a solid essay on grief that emphasizes the importance of letting go. Closure is the goal of the film, which means it does end up wrapping up very neatly, but it is thematically appropriate.
Even if you do love them, children can be made to feel unwanted by the absence of active love. This can be at odds with the process of grief and healing. Martyrs Lane showcases this wonderfully with Leah, a likable, thoughtful, and curious little girl who just wants her family to love her the way she loves them. She doesn’t understand why she is treated different. It’s wonderful to watch her slowly understand why and yet still she does her best comfort and care for others. The film centers Leah’s relationship with her mother Sarah which leaves Bex and Thomas a bit to the wayside.
Packed with moments that are just absolute punches to the gut, Martyrs Lane thrives in its niche of grief horror. Sometimes the family treats Leah way too harshly, and there’s never anything done afterwards. It’s a weird enough feeling for an adult watching, it’s hard to imagine a child hearing or feeling the way Leah must feel during her story. I appreciate that the supernatural horror that Leah experiences is minimized in physical danger, even if it is still present. By the time we learn the importance of the trinkets and the desires of the spirit in question, we realize we’ve seen this film before. It’s still a nice ride getting there. Martyrs Lane comfortably predictable.
Shudder has done it again in acquiring yet another quaint indie gem that burns slowly yet confidently throughout its runtime. I appreciate the effort that went into making this. The young child actors do their best and convincingly pull off their difficult roles while the adult cast does a fine job at channeling grief in other ways. Some fantastic upside-down shots add a bit of disorienting flair to the otherwise scare-less film. And my favorite aspect of Martyrs Lane is that it commits to its central themes by reiterating the importance of addressing loss and why it hurts. It makes the film seem bigger.
Martyrs Lane is a chilling and despondent haunter that uses the supernatural to personify grief. The strong and engaging mystery pushes the film along nicely as light scares pepper the film. Leaning more into drama than outright horror, Martyrs Lane will absolutely bring a tear to your eye with plenty of heartbreaking moments. A fresh take on scary kids in horror films, it has no issues switching up the formula to become something altogether more lasting than a typical film. It won’t break any records or set the world on fire, but Martyrs Laneis an appropriately forlorn sojourn into apparition-based horror.
Overall Score? 6/10