Horror has the power to shock, disturb, and frighten us. But it can just as easily move us and force much-needed introspection. Such is the case with Martyrs Lane, coming to horror streamer Shudder Thursday.
The AMC Networks–owned streaming service picked up Martyrs Lane ahead of its premiere at Canada’s Fantasia Film Festival, where one of its young stars, Sienna Sayer, earned a Cheval Noir Special Mention.
The film is a thoughtful, chilling look at how the past can haunt us, and grief can’t simply be buried and forgotten.
You can watch Martyrs Lane exclusively on Shudder September 9.
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Escaping the past
In Martyrs Lane, 10-year-old Leah lives with her family in a British vicarage. Surrounded by a community and living a generally quiet life, Leah nevertheless senses certain tensions beyond everyday family bickering.
At night, Leah is frequently awakened by her mother’s unexplained screams, but she’s unable to get close and understand her. There’s a wall between mother and daughter that Leah can’t quite figure out.
When Leah starts seeing a girl appear at night, with decaying skin and mysterious angel wings, she begins to unpack past traumas that have stuck with her mother but remain hidden from sight. Leah can sense that what has been left unspoken is tied to the girl who visits her, and to her mother’s withheld affection.
Over several nights, the girls play a game in which Leah seeks out small clues as to what ails her mother. Like a family archaeologist, she finds meaning in the mundane objects in her home, sometimes deliberately hidden or even literally buried.
Through the genre of the ghost story, writer-director Ruth Platt digs into the lingering effects of grief and trauma. We are haunted by our pasts, and what we repress always threatens to come back. It affects us and those closest to us. It can’t be contained or hidden or forgotten, but rather has to be dealt with in one way or another.
The tragic resilience of children
Telling the story of Martyrs Lane from the perspective of a child was a brilliant move. We ask so much of children, sometimes without even knowing it. And they understand so much more than we give them credit for.
Leah is no different. She senses her mother’s distance. And she gets that something bad has happened. She knows that some topics are off-limits too.
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But something gets flattened out in the process. We jump from Leah’s dreams to her fraught relationship with her big sister to her grappling with the Bible and her own faith to what may be a very real ghost visiting her at night.
This is one of the reasons Leah’s perspective is so valuable. She hasn’t learned to compartmentalize like the grownups in her life. She experiences everything fully, without filter, and it givers her insights most of us have lost touch with.
Martyrs Lane offers a powerful portrait of family struggle and the ways things left unsaid don’t simply go away.
Catch Martyrs Lane on Shudder September 9.