Film Review: Martha Marcy May Marlene


Title: Martha Marcy May Marlene

Director: Sean Durkin

Starring: Elizabeth Olsen, John Hawkes, Brady Corbet, Sarah Paulson

Release Date: Out Now

Martha Marcy May Marlene is a brilliantly executed film by first-time feature director Sean Durkin.  Following the efforts of a young woman to adjust to ordinary life after escaping a cult, it is told through flashbacks that continually increase in intensity, and expertly visualises her mind slowly unravelling as a result of trauma and manipulation.

Starring as the titular character, Martha, is played by Elizabeth Olsen, better known to most as a result of her famous siblings rather than her considerable acting prowess. Often when an actor attempts to break out of a shadow created by former child stardom (or in this case, the shadow of being a sibling to former child stars), there is a temptation to choose deliberately controversial roles portraying gratuitous sex and drug abuse, which leads to heavy handed, cringe-worthy indie efforts such as those of Mysterious Skin or Havoc. Luckily, this has not been the case for Olsen, and with her quiet and tragic performance, she manages to hold up this delicately handled film. Other notable performances come from Sarah Paulson and John Hawkes, who play her sister Lucy and cult leader Patrick respectively. Hawkes, in particular, creates a deeply sinister character, whose presence on screen is instantly unsettling.

however if there is one major criticism to be made of this film, it is that it is never made very clear why Martha joined the cult in the first place. Although it is hinted that there is an absence of any real family in her life, she never really comes off as vulnerable enough to discover such a cult or to even come to embrace it. The ending is also a little anticlimactic and unworthy of the suspense the film has masterfully created.

That being said, the film remains beautifully shot and is brilliantly paced, with remarkable performances from the entire cast.  Martha Marcy May Marlene runs the opposing worlds of ordinary and cult life side by side in a way that sometimes makes them hard to tell apart, creating the mental portrait of a tormented young woman who is trapped between two opposing systems.

In a Nutshell: A quiet, eerie film which teases itself out slowly with a strong cast and a title you won’t be able to say ten times quickly.