Martha Marcy May Marlene – Review

10 Jul

When a film maker has the ability to create a movie that infiltrates your mind, even when you think that all is right with the world, you know that you are truly watching something special by a very talented artist. Martha Marcy May Marlene is a vicious spectacle of subtlety and paranoia that will remain buried in your mind long after the credits have stopped rolling.

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Martha’s (Elizabeth Olsen) life all of a sudden doesn’t seem like her own anymore. For the past two years of her life she has been staying with a mysterious cult, led by Patrick (John Hawkes), in the Catskill Mountains of New York. One morning she decides to leave and go stay with her sister (Sarah Paulson) and her brother in law (Hugh Dancy). Automatically, Martha’s behavior appears out of the ordinary to her family with an ever growing paranoia as the backbone of her whole mental discomfort. As the days go on, and more time is spent contemplating the past two years, Martha finds herself not knowing what is real and what is just her imagination.

Martha Marcy May Marlene is one of the most pure psychological dramas/thrillers that I have ever seen. There are plenty of great psychological films that go way over the top with how the present the mental collapse of its characters (Dragonfly) and sometimes it really works well (Antichrist). The look into Martha’s head is much more subtle. As a viewer, I didn’t even know that there were times that my head was being messed with until I really thought about it. Then, I had to go back and re-evaluate major parts of the movie because more and more puzzle pieces were falling into place, even after the movie ended.

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Part of what makes this movie work so well is the pacing and how the shots and scenes are pieced together. Martha’s time with the cult is all seen in flashbacks and the rest of the movie is Marta trying to adjust to family life. These parallel story lines are triggered by the other with something happening in the present that initiates the jump to the past events. This mirrors Martha’s fragile state of mind and shows her regression and obsession with the past, along with her inability to escape what has happened. In one particular transition, the two story lines appear to converge without me even noticing. It’s brilliant film making that really makes Martha Marcy May Marlene work.

Finally, something has to be said about the performances. I first saw John Hawkes in Winter’s Bone, which certainly isn’t a movie that I need to see again, but I do recognize that it’s objectively a good movie and the performances are especially something to admire, Hawke’s being one of them. He has this quiet and misleading attitude that hides his maliciousness, which really only comes out in a few scenes. But all my respect has to go to newcomer Elizabeth Olsen for not only taking on, but owning such a challenging role. Martha is one of the most complex characters I have seen on film, and Olsen completely sells it. I’d definitely like to see her in more serious roles in the future.

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Martha Marcy May Marlene, to me, is the perfect example of a psychological thriller. It’s subtle, yet jarring. The level of discomfort that I felt while watching this was enormous, and when the movie was over, I was so glad to find myself in my living room and no longer in this woman’s mind. For fans of the genre, this is a must see. It’s a slow burn that will leave you speechless.

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