Martyrs Lane

Nightmares appear to become real in this female-directed British horror screaming at the Fantasia Film Festival.

The Premise: Little Leah lives in a vicarage; her father is a Father, and he welcomes lost and needy souls into their home, God’s home. If the house seems crowded by day, it gives ample space for Leah’s imagination to unfold into its dark corners at night. But while nightmares swirl around the old house at bedtime, a small visitor appears at Leah’s window. This ghost/apparition/whatever is also a little girl, and at first her presence is soothing to Leah, but soon we learn that this paranormal personality may not be as benign as first thought.

The Verdict: Horror movies have long since exploited the fact that a child’s perception can really amplify our experience of anxiety and fright. Leah is a fairly stoic little girl, surviving a less than stellar home life. Tinged by grief, trauma, and silence, Leah relates a lot to her ghostly guest, both harbouring a simmering anger and a desire to be heard by the adults determined to ignore and suppress them. Of course, the more you repress something, the more you’re guaranteed for it to pop out in surprising and unsettling ways. A reckoning is looming, but who is its target and how will the casualties come? As Leah is kept in the dark, literally and figuratively, to some of her family’s past and pain, we, the audience, are also left out, only putting together the story as Leah searches out clues and processes what they mean. While a supernatural spirit walks the halls of Leah’s home, it’s clear the house is also haunted by sadness and secrecy, grief becoming its own ghost. Writer-director Ruth Platt gives an old story new life, and elicits two very fine performances from young actors Kiera Thompson and Sienna Sayer.

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