Sean Durkin’s film arrives at UK screens on a wave of 2011 festival buzz. It’s a bit like publicity hype for a Hollywood blockbuster, but less annoying. However it does prove a downer when said film turns out to be less than the stellar experience we were anticipating – and wanting.
Martha Marcy May Marlene features a fantastic central performance from Elizabeth Olsen, however, the heavily elliptical plot and lack of warmth makes this a cold experience. Also, character motivation (or lack of) feels wholly false. There’s a big difference between deliberate ambiguity and holes in narrative and reasoning. This proves maddening because the lingering fear and doubt portrayed by Olsen as Martha is excellent.
Martha is a young girl with a troubled past and a potentially very troubled future. She falls in with an alternative living, new age bunch, that turn out to be a weirdy-beardy cult. Patrick (John Hawkes) spouts the usual self-improvement and sub-Nietzchean bollocks and uses it to brainwash vulnerable types. He also drugs girls and rapes them as part of ‘a cleansing’. There’s also big orgies and it’s all very creepy.
Martha, now re-named Marcy May by Patrick, escapes and pitches up at her older sister’s place and generally acts like a lunatic, which, naturally, worries them. Durkin splits the film into different time frames and doesn’t really reveal anything. The misfire here could be that instead of haunting it ends up annoying.
One needless tact concerns the Manson family-like moments, where the cult break into houses and either steal stuff or, in one case, murder an innocent man. It’s quite unnecessary because Martha’s wake up call could have come from shocking places already – like the ritual rape and cruel mind manipulation (the scene with the cats). That’s more than enough. Adding murder into the mix bogs it down. Without it the movie would still play the same.
On the same note, it does appear very brave of Durkin and Olsen to present a character who is, for most part, highly dislikeable. She’s weird, rude and might be going mad. Martha certainly doesn’t help herself at any juncture. The last couple of shots play with this notion well. Is Patrick coming for her or is it all in her fragile mind?
UK Release Date: 3rd February