Martha Marcy May Marlene

Martha Marcy May Marlene

(2011)

Psychodrama, winner of the Directing Award (Dramatic) for first time writer/director Sean Durkin at Sundance 2011, stars Elizabeth Olsen (sister of Mary-Kate and Ashley) as a fragile young woman who escapes from a creepy, Manson-like cult and their charismatic leader (John Hawkes).... More

She takes refuge at the Connecticut home of her estranged, uptight sister Lucy (Sarah Paulson). When her memories trigger a chilling paranoia, Martha starts to believe that the cult is pursuing her, and the line between reality and delusion blur.Hide

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Flicks Review

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a nervous condition suffered by shell-shocked soldiers and sex-crime victims, among others, and it’s marbled through writer/director Sean Durkin’s traumatic, disordered debut. Even the title denotes the slipping identity of its heroine, poor Martha (Olsen), who flees John Hawkes’ creepy cult to reunite with her sister (Paulson) and her hubbie (Dancy) at their lakehouse retreat.... More

Though she’s safe at last, it’s this anodyne aftermath that allows Martha’s memories of indoctrination and betrayal to bubble to the surface. A shot of naked swimmers shifting in and out of focus through the black waters of a river provides a striking analogy for the way her past and present constantly intermingle.

With no score but an occasional tinnitus ring, and its elusive, stream-of-consciousness storyline, the film has a woozy, disconnected feel that puts us squarely in Martha’s shoes. Sometimes Durkin strands her in the centre of a massive frame like a malicious Terrence Malick; sometimes he shoots her from far too close. It’s a testament to Olsen’s stunning performance that it withstands such scrutiny, particularly when Martha’s motives remain obscure.

Besides his weak words and forceful personality, there are no explanations for Hawkes’ allure – Martha and her fellow lost souls seem desperate for a leader, however toxic – and the character’s ultimate fate is forever in question. If you’re expecting a traditional thriller or character study, expect to be disappointed. This is a troubling portrait of how fear and abuse leave their tentacles in everything they touch – and a haunting one at that.Hide


The Peoples' Reviews

Average ratings from 2 ratings, 2 reviews
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BY alpheta lister

A darkly laid-back examination of displacement and vulnerability, and the attempt to come to terms with traumatic events. The acting, without exception, is excellent, and the seeming authenticity of the cult member's lifestyle and residence is absolutely gripping. It builds it's way ever so gradually to a shattering climactic event followed by a mysterious non-resolution of an ending, and I was left marvelling at the delicacy and perfect execution of everything about this movie. It is too... More close to seeming-reality for comfort. A must-see for those who enjoy the best.Hide


BY DeborahE nobody

Saw this at the NZ Film Festival last night and it blew me away. Have been thinking about it ever since.

It's not an easy watch and the subject matter is rather grim, however there are light moments in the dark and the phenomenal direction and performances of the cast, particularly the breathtaking Elizabeth Olsen, are what make this film compelling viewing.

The ending, albeit frustrating, will leave you thinking and wanting more.


The Press Reviews

90% of critics recommend.
Rotten Tomatoes Score. More reviews on Rotten Tomatoes

  • A stunningly assured, elegantly crafted and profoundly disturbing portrait of a traumatised mind. Rockets Durkin and Olsen to the top of the ‘ones to watch’ pile. Full Review

  • The largely elliptical script feels a few drafts shy of focus, with the thriller elements undermining the juicier questions of why one joins a cult and how life can go back to normal later. Full Review

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