NOTE: Here is my review from Soda & Telepaths that was posted back on September 9, 2021
Martyrs Lane tells the story of a 10-year-old girl named Leah (Kiera Thompson), a sweet little girl with a family who can best be described as ‘distant’, at worst they’re just straight-up abusive. During the day things are relatively OK, there are new people around the large vicarage that Leah lives in and she can spend a fair amount of time just wandering the town… at night, however, the old vicarage creaks and groans and causes Leah no end of bad dreams.
One night a little girl (Sienna Sayer) knocks at Leah’s window and tries to comfort her… at first. The more nights that this little girl spends with Leah, the more sinister her motives become and the more strange things seem to keep happening around the vicarage. Just what does this little girl want, and what is her name? Guess little Leah’s going to have to work hard to figure that information out.
Martyrs Lane is an incredible slow-burn horror film, focusing less on outright scares and more on a constant sense of unease that grows more and more with every moment. Its pacing is slow, but deliberately so in order to just let the strangeness slowly wash over the viewer and have them slowly feel the hairs on their arm stand up the more it becomes apparent that something’s wrong.
Martyrs Lane doesn’t even really address what’s wrong until the final scene and that’s also where most of the biggest jumps are, but there’s this constant sense that something horrible is about to happen at any second and the film plays it as carefully as possible. Most of the unnerving parts come from the scenes between the two young girls in the lead roles, their scenes just full of a palpable sense that something’s wrong – that only grows the more we learn about the mysterious girl with the tattered angel wings.
A film this slow could end up feeling boring in the wrong hands but director Ruth Platt manages to keep it visually interesting through creative camera work and lighting, even when the film is at its darkest (both literally dark and emotionally dark) there’s something about Martyrs Lane that’s just impossible to look away from. There’s something special here that should really be handed a larger budget by some indie studio so that she can really go in on something truly grand.
On top of all this, the thing that makes Martyrs Lane work as well as it does are the performances by the two young girls in the lead roles. The film spends its entire runtime just following Leah to the exclusion of all other members of the family and normally the prospect of following a child actor throughout a slow burn horror movie would be a recipe for disaster, but oh my god these kids are insanely good. There’s such incredible talent to be found in both Kiera and Sienna that they manage to carry the entire movie so effortlessly on their shoulders you forget there’s anyone else in the film.
Of course, it’s the rest of the people in Martyrs Lane that kind of keep it from being truly great. To be honest, most of the time I didn’t even get what the other characters were doing other than just overreacting which leads to some awkward moments. Now, the final 5 minutes of the film does kind of give a reason for some of the behaviour but only in the sense that I could excuse their actions due to the big reveal. Maybe just a few more hints of what was causing them to behave that way might have made it feel less awkward, it just feels like there was a couple of scenes missing to fill in those blanks.
Martyrs Lane is a genuinely interesting little horror film that takes its time building a tone that overwhelms the audience until a fairly impressive climax. If you’re not the kind of person who likes slow-burn horror films then this is really not gonna be your thing because this is the slowest of slow burns, but if you’re into something a little more atmospheric then this is worth looking into.