Martyrs Lane is the latest horror offering from streaming service Shudder and writer/director Ruth Platt (The Black Forest, The Lesson). A viewer’s first impressions are likely to be that it’s a bit of a confusing mess with characters badly explained and their relationships not really explained at all, but if you stick with it, if you watch right to the end, it actually does an admirable job of tying everything up and delivering a satisfying conclusion.
Leah (Kiera Thompson – His Name Was Gerry, The Salisbury Poisonings) lives with her mother Sarah (Denise Gough – The Witcher 3, Stella), her father Thomas (Steven Cree – Cobra, Deep Water) and older sister Bex (Hannah Rae – City of Tiny Lights, Broadchurch) in the parish rectory. They don’t seem the happiest of families, with Bex alternately dismissive and borderline abusive towards her sibling and Sarah distant and distracted. The only real familial affection she gets is from her father, and as the local vicar he’s often busy with matters revolving around the church.
READ MORE: Spanish Fly (1975) – Blu-ray Review
Into Leah’s quiet and seemingly lonely life comes some unexpected company. At night she’s visited by a strange little girl (Sienna Sayer – Hitmen, Silent Witness) who claims to be some kind of guardian angel. Each night she visits and she tells Leah that to find what she’s lost she needs to search in a location around the house and gardens. Little by little, both Leah and the audience piece together the story of what happened to this family and why there are so many shadows and hushed conversations.
The biggest problem Martyrs Lane has is that nothing is really established or explained to begin with. Even the relationships between the characters aren’t explained. With the way the adults treat Leah you’re left wondering if this is a foster family, or guardians who don’t care for her, rather than her actual family. Are these her parents or not? It’s over halfway through the film before she says the word “Mum” or “Dad”. It leaves the audience unmoored, unsure exactly what’s going on or how everyone fits together in the story’s framework.
The acting is all solid, especially between Leah and her strange nightly visitor. Kiera Thompson’s acting is the real standout here, lending a seriousness and sadness to Leah that never seems forced or over the top. Sienna Sayer is also capable of a great heel turn, flashing between sweet and furious in near the same breath. The two girls are written and directed to sound like children, rather than just small adults, something a lot of films seem to struggle with when their protagonist is a child.
It’s nice to see films like this still getting proper physical releases, even if it’s only standard-def DVD rather than Blu-ray. It’s a very bare-bones release, but there’s still a couple of welcome special features that give us some more context and background. There’s an interview with Ruth Platt, and a brief little making-of featurette, though it’s a slightly cheeky double-dip as the segments with Ruth in the behind-the-scenes featurette are just lifted wholesale from the interview.
READ MORE: 5 TV Characters Who Deserved a Spin-Off
Martyrs Lane is a film that absolutely requires patience. The first 20 minutes or so are just not massively interesting, consisting mainly of a dysfunctional family being dysfunctional and distant – but stick with it. Little by little the story hooks are planted, events unfold and, unlike many bigger budget films, Ruth has managed to not only successfully pull off her set up, she delivers a solid and believable payoff.
Martyrs Lane is out now on DVD and Digital from Acorn Media.