There’s a trope I absolutely despise in horror movies that is never in any other genre, yet it almost always deployed, irresponsibly, as a twist or a shock-ending.
It needs a content warning but that, in itself, would be a spoiler so, if you fear you may typically deal with a common type of content trigger, it’s up to you but I’d recommend you spoil yourself by clicking.
So, MAJOR SPOILERS for the otherwise-decent Martyrs Lane after the jump. Like, right after the jump.
I suffer from depression and OCD, the latter of which is so crippling that, especially during a global pandemic (which is my worst nightmare because of the people I care about who are more vulnerable immunologically), I just don’t leave my house anymore. I am no stranger to brushes with death that I’ve brought on myself.
I had hoped that medication and therapy (the bursts of it that my local health authority had funding for, and private therapy has been a waste of money so far) would have made my depression manageable, but it’s been a part of me for too long that I fear it’s just going to be with me for life, an inseparable part of my personality.
I don’t like it. But I can just about work out how not to act on those feelings of worthlessness, of helplessness, of frustration of not being normal.
What I don’t do is romanticise or dramatise it. I honestly wish it would go away.
So I don’t like seeing suicide being used, time and fucking time again, as a shock ending for an otherwise well-made horror film. It’s downright fucking irresponsible, especially when deteriorating mental health is so obviously personified in the film, and that a noble, sacrificial suicide is the only way to ‘save’ the day and everyone else (The Babadook expertly skewers this bullshit trope).
What a shame, then, that Martyrs Lane chooses to show us that outcome. Even worse so because the identity of the ghost is a middle child that died, and the mother is shown to be the one who is suffering, seemingly without much support from her husband or her university-age daughter, who wears inches of eyeliner and brings a boy home after dark (SEX BAD). Throw in some heavy religious overtones (why?), and what it seems to be saying about womanhood and motherhood doesn’t quite sit right with me.
There are some spooky moments, best done via less-is-more: a figure off-screen suddenly warps unnaturally, shapes in the corner of one’s eye seem to morph. The core mystery is enjoyable to watch as it unfolds. The two young leads are by turns adorable and frightening, and the film does an excellent job at taking relatable childhood moments (exploring, playing games, climbing trees) and turning them into the stuff of literal nightmares.
But too much of the tension comes from dramatic irony via other characters not revealing crucial information and, while this is a simple but effective way to have us sympathise with how isolated Leah, the youngest child and protagonist, feels from her family, but there’s no explanation for why this is the case, unless it’s a red herring to make us think that she or her mother are dead.
Once the final scene hits, with the Noble Suicide, it’s just a clichéd disappointment. Sadly this is the case for many horror movies that start out building some fantastic dread in an immersive setting only to crumble under the weight of its own atmosphere because it couldn’t story its way out of itself. Something something dead end pun on the title. Sigh.
Normally I’d give a film with a disappointing ending a 3, but I’ve decided that anything with a Noble Suicide (especially when the character is already suffering from depression after CHILD LOSS), it gets an automatic one. No exceptions.