Tag Archives: Shudder movies


Martyrs Lane

by Hope Madden

Six years ago, filmmaker Ruth Platt released the thriller The Lesson. While essentially no one else saw the film, I was impressed enough by it to look forward to whatever else Platt wanted to make.

So here’s her follow up, the grief-driven horror Martyrs Lane.

Platt’s story of a haunting walks in familiar circles, as confused and lonesome 10-year-old Leah (a heart-bruisingly melancholy Kiera Thompson) makes a spooky new friend (Sienna Sayer, wonderful). By day Leah rattles about the vicarage where her father (Steven Cree) is minister, her older sister (Hannah Rae) kills time before fleeing for university, and her mom (Denise Gough) mourns something secretly.

At night, the creaks and whistles combine with Leah’s fears, imagination and loneliness to conjure a visitor who leaves Leah with clues to follow.

There is a lot about Martyrs Lane that feels familiar, but Platt grounds her spectral tale in messy, lived-in family drama. Set design, costuming, framing, moments of silence, pointed cruelties followed by protective love—all of it combines to create an atmosphere both familial and haunted. No austere staircases, empty nurseries, or any of the other chilly and spare environs where you might expect to set a mournful ghost story. Instead, Leah’s home bears the weary chaos and forced cheer of family and absence.

Thompson’s performance is driven by the recognizable, shapeless guilt that looms in a child’s imagination, making every perceived transgression somehow unforgivable and therefore impossible to share, even with a caring adult. Cree’s bright presence offsets the gloom nicely, while Sayer’s ghostly cherubic image is wonderfully, tenderly haunting.

Gough’s understated frailty is the unease that haunts the film from its opening, a feeling that blossoms into dread as the tale wears on.

Platt and her talented group do not fail to deliver on the promise of their ghost story. The issue is only that, while the execution is impeccable, the story itself is a bit tired. Wisely, Platt capitalizes on character over story, leaving you so invested in this little girl and her family that you’ll likely forgive the sense of having been here before.

And, like me, you’ll probably keep an eye out for wherever it is Platt wants to take you next.

The One that Got Away

The Head Hunter

by Hope Madden

In a land of yore, the geography forbidding, a far off trumpet calls for the hardiest of warriors—those equipped to fight beasts.

Director Jordan Downey shows much and tells little in his nearly wordless medieval fantasy, The Head Hunter. The filmmaker parses out all the information you’ll need to follow this simple vengeance myth, but pay attention. Very little in this film is without meaning—no creepy image, no creak or slam.

In what is essentially a one man show, Christopher Rygh delivers a quiet, brooding performance for a quiet, brooding film. He cuts an impressive figure as the Vikingesque warrior at the center of this adventure and his work speaks of joyless endurance.

He answers the call of the trumpet. He fights monsters. He collects heads, which he spikes to the wall of his isolated cabin. The festering stench that must waft from this place!

The action takes place almost entirely off screen, which is clearly one way for Downey to keep costs down, but it does allow you to focus on a different part of the story. By denying viewers the release of battle victory, we get nothing but the anxiety of the preparations and the pain – physical and emotional – of the aftermath. A prime example of making your limitations work for you, Downey’s confident direction and strong storytelling instincts draw your attention not to the physical horror of battle but to the emotional horror of this existence.

Kevin Stewart’s cinematography gorgeously creates the mythical brutality of the land. Eric Wegener’s sound design is almost equally impressive, from the drip and splash of gore to the crackle of a flame to the clank of armor as well as the more ghastly, hypnotic sounds of the otherworld so savagely interrupting this one.

With so much to experience and so little to tell you what you’re seeing, the team effort is required and it pays off. It’s a far cry from the filmmaker’s most famous effort, 2009’s ThanksKilling (an annual seasonal indulgence for a small segment of us).

The only thing you’ll find in common between the two films is Downey’s inspired use of practical effects—another element that helps his bold and memorable effort stand out from the pack.