Film Review: Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011)

on Friday, February 03, 2012
'Martha Marcy May Marlene' (UK Release: 3 Feb '12) // Words: Saam Das

The fact that Elizabeth Olsen isn't in the nominations for Best Actress at this year's Academy Awards is a travesty. Indeed, perhaps another year would have seen much greater recognition for the film itself and Sean Durkin, whose directorial efforts here are astonishingly his first in the feature film arena. Intense, haunting, and above all, excellent, 'Martha Marcy May Marlene' deserves better.

Martha (Elizabeth Olsen) has been living in a commune, led by the enigmatic Patrick (John Hawkes), for the past two years. Yet something has gone very wrong as we find her running away from her fellow dwellers and ringing her older sister Lucy (Sarah Paulson), who she hasn't contacted in years. Lucy finds Martha, allowing her sister to stay at her beautiful, overly plush home, along with her fiancé Ted (Hugh Dancy).

The film pieces together Martha's experiences at the commune, drip-feeding dreamy flashbacks of the abuse she has suffered. All the while, Martha struggles to find her place and identity in the outside world, succumbing to paranoia and erratic activity. Olsen's distressed performance is sublime, charting Martha's troubling descent among a slew of other excellent performances, including Paulson's and Hawkes'.

At times, the treatment of the film's "cult" is somewhat on the sensationalist side but few other films have managed to demonstrate quite how and why ordinary people can be taken in by others with dubious intentions. 'Martha Marcy May Marlene' does it with ease, a testament to Durkin's writing and directing ability. The casting of John Hawkes is pivotal as he revels in the contrast of his father-figure role and something much more sinister.

The film's ending questions if Martha can ever escape her haunting paranoia, undoubtedly a similar feeling experienced by the audience upon watching 'Martha Marcy May Marlene'. This is a vivid, unsettling portrayal of an abused young woman consumed by her recent past. 'Martha Marcy May Marlene' combines remarkable performances both in front and behind the camera - a psychological drama of the highest calibre. Already a contender for film of the year.


'Martha Marcy May Marlene' is on wide release throughout UK cinemas now.

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