The one thing I kept wondering the whole time was whether or not anybody got showers.
The film stars Elizabeth Olsen as Martha, a girl who runs away from a cult only to be picked up by her sister and brother-in-law. As she tries to get used to being back in “normal” life she starts get flash-backs of the past, and it starts to eff with her, thus effing with everybody else around her. Let’s not also forget that this chick is as paranoid as a kid looking up porn in a public library.
Going into this film I knew to expect a good performance from an Olsen sister nobody knew about, and a lot of cult freakishness. Sadly, I still don’t know what to think of this film.
This is a real upsetting film that will probably make you more sad than actually on-the-edge-of-your-seat. Right from the opening scene you know you’re in for some real dark ish to be going down and having a cult there, makes it almost even more grim, but that is where my problem with this film is.
The film brings out a lot of points about how vulnerable people can be and how weak-minded most people are as well, but I think this was just a case where writer/director Sean Durkin just wanted me to feel like I should go snuggle in my warm, big, and cozy bed. He definitely did a good job at this but there could have been more to it. This premise can be used very effectively and can do a lot of creepy wonders if you have the right vision but this film kind of left me cold, as if I had no reason to really see this film other than to be utterly depressed out-of-my-mind.
The writing also felt pretty repetitive because it was the same constant thing where Marcy’s sister and her husband would just yell at her because she wouldn’t tell them anything, then Marcy would get paranoid about something, and then they would do the same thing over and over again. I think if they focused more on these characters rather than just the situation itself, the film could have really done some real damage to its viewers but it also felt like Durkin didn’t know what to do with this strong plot and just focused on a bunch of random silence and yelling. There could have been a whole lot of cooler things they could have done with this premise but when you just do the same thing over and over again without getting anywhere the first time around, then that’s where I have my problem.
Despite my problems though, I feel like Durkin did a great job behind the camera and really worked on keeping the grim material, grim. Everything is all dark and faded to bring out this glum look for the film even when Marcy does escape the cult and it gives us this sort of feeling like she will never escape. There were also a lot of cool shots where Durkin has one scene in the present, transition over to a scene in the past and it creates this dark mood that’s subtle. It’s a shame this guy didn’t know what to do with his script because he sure as hell knew how to film it.
Speaking of Elizabeth Olsen, she’s pretty much awesome here as Martha. This is her debut role and what she has to do for it is very hard since this character is so battered and tortured that Olsen is actually forced to basically bring out any type of commanding force to this very complex character. She owns that and I think she has a future in the movie-business, I just hope that not all of her films are like this really. John Hawkes is also pretty menacing and freaky as the cult leader, and Sarah Paulson and Hugh Dancy are pretty good as Marcy’s sister and brother-in-law.
The ending is also another topic of conversation that many people were pissed about because it does just happen, without any real tension but just being ambiguous. I wasn’t as pissed with this ending considering this is what to expect now from all art-house flicks but it’s also a great ending that adds a lot to a film that doesn’t try to spell everything out for the audience. The whole ride to the ending was a bit sloppy but I can at least give some props to a film that you can find a lot of meaning out of. It wasn’t my cup of tea but hey, I’m just one dude.
Consensus: Martha Marcy May Marlene is a grim flick with some great acting from Olsen and Hawkes, but the film itself feels repetitive and a plot that really could have gone so many more places than it actually went and just stayed in this film.