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“Martha Marcy May Marlene” – Review (POSITIVE)

November 8, 2011

The preview for Sean Durkin’s debut film, “Martha Marcy May Marlene”, doesn’t really reveal much about the films overall plot. It was confusing and mysterious for some, for me the cast, especially John Hawkes who appears to play a friendly mentor-like leader, captured me.

When I read up more about the film, the story revolves around a girl who was apart of an abusive cult, a-la-Manson family, she finally escapes and makes her way back to her original life. Critics and viewers alike were praising the intensity and raw performance by newcomer, and younger sister to Mary Kate & Ashley, Elizabeth Olsen. Olsen’s performance is frightfully real and extreme, this is her movie, and I wouldn’t be surprise that she’ll garner her first Oscar nomination for Best Actress.

A young woman, Martha (Olsen), is rapidly unraveling amidst her attempt to reclaim a normal life after fleeing from a vicious/abusive cult, lead by the captivating leader named Patrick (John Hawkes). Seeking help from her estranged older sister Lucy (Sarah Paulson) and brother-in-law (Hugh Dancy), Martha is unable and unwilling to reveal the truth about her disappearance. When her memories trigger a chilling paranoia that her former cult could still be pursuing her, the line between Martha’s reality and delusion begins to merge into one horrendous living nightmare.

The movies intensity is played subtly, much like Nicolas Winding Refn’s “Drive”, “Martha Marcy May Marlene” is a self-contained, quiet, and conscious movie. The creative editing in the film really drives the story between what is past & what is present. Film aficionados will appreciate the match cuts used to derive the past & present times. The paced cinematography adds to the eerieness of it’s setting as well as it’s monotoned score.

But, what really stands out is Elizabeth Olsen’s powerhouse performance. Playing such a damaged character can be a tricky performance to sell to an audience. Her characters mind-meld, if you will, regarding her time in spent the cult, subsequently pressing on her, hopeful, normal life is quite the feat this movie needed. The movie is a true testament of a bold character study about the human psyche. How can someone who’s been psychologically damaged physically, as well as mentally, can return to a normal life?

There’s an interesting duality play going on here. When Martha enters the cult, Patrick says she looks like a Marcy May, he decides from there on she will be known as Marcy May. Marlene is another name given to her by a fellow cult member, Watts (Brad Corbet), he calls her Cousin Marlene, mainly to confuse callers. When Martha returns to society, her sister’s home, she is known as Martha. The cult she is Marcy May. For Martha, the trouble she has is trying to define who she really is. She was brain washed for 2 years in Patrick’s cult, who’s the real identity? As Martha returns home, there’s that sudden paranoia that her fellow members, mainly Patrick, are looking for her.

People seem to have trouble with the ending, I myself will agree that it’s abrupt ending is a bit of headache, but much like how the Coen’s “A Serious Man” ended, if you pay attention carefully, notice a few things here and there, it actually makes a whole lot of sense. For some, the movie might come off as a bore, but I strongly defended that notion. The slow, panting score is a great tool for this film, it sort of plays out like Martha’s psyche is about to burst. I already touched on the editing, my favorite trick in editing is match cuts, and they’re utilized perfectly with this film. My only beef with the film was the cinematography. It was too dark and washed, it was straining on the eyes, I’m not sure why Durkin’s decided to do that. Perhaps it symbolizes the grey areas of the human mind? Not really sure.

For a debut feature by Sean Durkin’s, he’s craftly conjured a movie that’s a realistic horror film in the sense of the reality of what can happen to an innocent and how easily there young minds can be toyed with. Elizabeth Olsen performance is real Oscar contender for this Fall season. Matter a fact I wouldn’t at all be surprised that the movie earns a win in it’s original screenplay as well.

GRADE: A-

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