September 08, 2021
Ruth Platt’s fairytale of fusty parish England is subtle, highly atmospheric and illuminated by surprising love and care
Martyrs Lane review – gothic supernatural mystery with a warm beating heart
Leah (Kiera Thompson) feels like a stranger in her own house. Home for the 10-year-old is a Victorian vicarage, but it is not a place of comfort. Her morose mum Sarah (Denise Gough) berates her when she comes back with a cake from the parishioners; her dad Thomas (Steven Cree) is constantly busy with his flock. Snatches of distraught parental conversation seem to lodge in the house’s nooks. Leah is fixated with a golden locket her mother always wears, and she starts feeling flashes of a ghostly presence near the windows. Then a ringletted little girl with lopsided angel wings (Sienna Sayer) begins visiting her every night. Huddled under bedsheets, the pair play a game, Two Truths One Lie, bound to produce revelations.
This is a supernatural mystery set in fusty parish England rather than pure horror – though its visual vocabulary becomes increasingly gothic as it progresses; Ruth Platt’s third film is at first almost too subtle for its own good. As Leah’s new friend directs her to small objects around the house and grounds, including minuscule letter-bearing dice, Platt’s storytelling is high-risk, almost obscure, leaving viewers much to infer. Partly it’s because it is told from the point of view of a child with a tactile fetish for trinkets; but it actually means Martyrs Lane is highly atmospheric, a diaphanous world of billowing curtains, lamplight circles and luminous stained glass.
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