Martyrs Lane is a film scaled down to a child's eye view. Tonally, its more ghost story than horror, but many influences, cinematic, literary, and personal, have filtered through the sand of my brain to create it.
Nostalgia plays a part – the house being based a little on the large, falling apart, church-owned house I grew up in, a home to strangers and my family alike. Leah is a small collector of things - scant on emotional fulfilment and adult communication, and like a little magpie scavenging small, seemingly insignificant objects to fill a nameless void.
I watched and rewatched as many films that tell their stories through a child's eye as I could – films from different genres, and different auteurs – Night of the Hunter, Bicycle Thieves, Ivan's Childhood, The Fallen Idol, Ratcatcher, Kes, The Devil's Backbone, Pan's Labyrinth. I suppose the most significant influence is a Spanish film called Spirit of the Beehive by Victor Erice, both visually and thematically. It has these two extraordinary young leads – two girls – and their voices and relationship seem so unmanipulated by the adult (director) voice – the personalities and chemistry they bring to the screen seem so of themselves, and yet placed within a story so carefully created and told by Erice. The lead child, Ana, played by Ana Torrent, makes sense of the fragments of the adult world around her, through her own childlike imagination, and this was key for the conception of Martyrs Lane. And the relationship between the two girls, quite capricious at times, and so natural, but natural in a way that also manages to encompass a wider experience of the child's eye – a slightly strange, liminal space, between the practical world and the spiritual, or dream-like, but still from a child's eye view. And again, this was very key in creating a sense of the internal narrative of Martyrs Lane's little protagonist, Leah.
We, Mark Gyori (my DP) and I, also discussed how we could visually reflect the cinematic look of Spirit of the Beehive, in creating this big dark house, which in my film, in my head, was a metaphor for Leah's mother's brain – a brain Leah was rattling around in, lost; with light flooding windows, single light sources, long dark corridors, and a slightly dreamy, lyrical quality to the space. Mark used Cooke Panchro lenses and a classic vario lens to further enhance the introspective, non-digital, retro look of the film. We used diopters instead of a macro lens to home in on all the tiny objects Leah gathers, and this also creates a rather haptic, slightly nostalgic feel for them that I think works well.
In a strange way, Tarkovsky's Stalker and Solaris were also influences – though Martyrs Lane doesn't resemble those films in many ways, I was always fascinated by Stalker's daughter and her presence in the film, and there is a scene towards the end of Martyrs Lane that is a bit of an homage to a scene in Stalker - and Solaris is just the most beautiful ghost story set in space, about grief and love. So, many eclectic influences I guess, embedded somewhere deep in the fabric of my film.