Fantasia ’21 Review: ‘Martyr’s Lane’ is about a haunting, in more ways than one

Ghost stories are among the oldest we have, and they come in many forms. While often scary, they are also inherently sad, depicting a spirit tied to this realm and unable to move on to a peaceful afterlife, usually due to some trauma.

Martyr’s Lane is one of these films. Told from a child’s point of view and full of both dread and melancholy.

Leah (Kiera Thompson) is a young girl who lives on a vicarage with her mother, father, and older sister. Between her parent’s busy schedule and her older sisters teenage disdain, she is frequently left to her own devices on the large estate. However, it’s clear early on that there is something not quite right in their lives, and between the nights that her mother (Denise Gough) wakes her up wailing and the days where their house is full of strangers, Leah ends up being isolated, both in the empty house at night and the full one during the day. Enter a young girl at her window (Sienna Sayer) who wants to be her friend.

Sienna Sayer in Martyr’s Lane

As the two girls speak and form a secret friendship, the family’s unspoken past begins to be revealed to Leah, which has ramifications for everyone. Leah understands that this young girl is some form of spirit from early on. Each night the spirit gives Leah a task that reveals shards of truth to her, about why she is isolated and why her mother, in particular, cannot seem to connect with her.

If you’ve been paying attention, there are probably some things you can figure out. I am not going to confirm them for you here, but I can say that the film is definitely worth watching regardless. While it’s the journey and not the destination, both of those things are beautifully rendered and heartbreaking. Both Thompson and Sayer are compelling actors, no mean feat for those so young, and Ruth Platt’s direction highlights both the dread and the melancholy of the situation.

By the time everything comes to a head in the third act, you will be attached to both Leah and her mother, and the story resolves in such a way that reminds us that as much as spirits might be hanging on, they are also being held on to. An excellent festival film and a perfect fit for Shudder, where it will debut next month.

Martyr’s Lane played as part of the 2021 Fantasia Film Festival and will be released by Shudder on September 9th.


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