Martha Marcy May Marlene Review

What’s in a name?

As you might have noticed from the title of Sean Durkin’s debut feature film, Martha Marcy May Marlene, his protagonist has acquired more than most on her travels.

In a field like any other, we watch a group of men tend to the earth while some women hang washing up to dry.

If we were in a very catholic part of america, where the parents had either no birth or self control, this could be a large family.

But it’s not.

In fact, their numbers are so great that the men and women eat in shifts. Communal living doesn’t appear to have much going for it for one pretty, young girl who silently slips out of the surprisingly plush abode and flees towards a nearby forest.

Chased by her “family”, Marcy takes shelter and food at a local diner until one of her supposed siblings tracks her down.

Reluctant to leave with him, Marcy sends him away but knows he’ll soon return with the rest of the family. Desperate, Marcy frantically calls her estranged sister, Lucy, from a public payphone who’s the only real family she has left.

Understandably pleased and relieved to hear from her little sister after more than two years without any contact, Lucy promptly arrives in a 4 x 4 to collect her little sister and provide refuge from Marcy’s mysterious old life.

Yet she doesn’t believe her new family will let her go so easily and, as she increasingly struggles to make sense of the normal world she long left behind, neither does she want them to.

Martha Marcy May Marlene starts off with a rather intriguing premise, namely that of a naive and malleable young woman falling into a cult.

Beginning with her escape from this way of life, we get to see the cult experience through Marcy’s eyes through her vivid flashbacks as she vainly tries to adapt back to what we perceive as normality.

These two strands are cut so adroitly that it often takes a few moments to work out whether we’re in the film’s established present or have instead been sucked back into Marcy’s febrile mind.

But as Martha Marcy May Marlene wears on, so its charm wears out until It feels like Durkin simply doesn’t know where to take his good idea.

And more specifically, how to end it.

So the responsibility for keeping the viewer’s interest falls upon the slender shoulders of Elizabeth Olsen, the young actress cast as Marcy.

At first glance, I didn’t think that much of Olsen. Yet the more time she spends on screen, the more bewitching her portrayal of Marcy becomes.

Olsen carries the emotionally fragile role of a physically confused and mentally battered woman very well, with her large yet vacant eyes often communicating how lost she feels

Writer and Director Durkin introduces the subtleties cults often use in gradually reprogramming the way a person thinks with some clever scenes that illustrate just how manipulative people can be in persuading others to believe in them instead of themselves.

Still, by the end of Martha Marcy May Marlene you’re just glad it’s finally over.

Even if it isn’t.

Jonathan Campbell

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Dates ‘n stuff

November 2011