Ghosts are real. Or, at least that that is what we have to accept in Ruth Platt’s Martyrs Lane, even though the apparitions we witness are never actually named as ghosts. It is clear from the start that something haunts the family at the centre of the story, but Platt refuses to set the boundaries of this supernatural story in stone. Platt never gives us the whole picture, with explanations as to certain actions, no matter how small, going unexplained throughout most of her narrative.
Mostly Ignored by her busy father, bullied by her older sister and kept at a distance by her mother, Leah (Kiera Thompson) retreats from her family—not that they’d notice. Then, one night she meets a mysterious young girl who plays with her every night, helping her uncover clues to a mystery surrounding her family. Yet, as things start to take an unsettling turn, Leah tries to stop the games, but her new friend won’t let go.
As most ghost stories feature the past and its influence over the present, it is no surprise that the mystery and clues dredged up – literally- from the ground in Martyrs Lane are about death and grief. The latter is the driving force throughout the story, but as we only know what Leah knows, the grief is only apparent much later in the story and serves as a source of confusion for the young girl.
Having had its world premiere at Fantasia Film Festival and the fact that Shudder has already snapped it up, it’s a good indicator that this film has something special about it. As a ghost story, it’s probably something similar to what we’ve seen before, but the storytelling itself is engaging and plays out as a mystery where we are given pieces of the past at the same time as Leah. A major factor in this film is the performance of the young actor, Kiera Thompson. As Leah, she unfolds a mystery that she never expected to find. Thompson is brilliant on screen, especially in scenes shared by another young actor, Sienna Sayer, who plays the supernatural-eques visitor. When ghost stories such as these focuses more on younger characters, we see everything from a child’s eye view, which bring a uniqueness to the genre, as well as us experiencing these unsettling events as if we were the character.
Director Ruth Platt creates a familiar story but with an atmosphere that is both chilling and intriguing. Our curiosity gets the better of us as we follow Leah through the ghost story that, although it is unsettling, still has a beating heart of hope.
Before streaming exclusively on Shudder from 9 September, Martyrs Lane will have its UK Premiere at Edinburgh International Film Festival on 20 August.