"MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE"
by Kevin Carr
MOVIE: ***1/2 (out of 5 stars)
DVD EXPERIENCE: * (out of 5 stars)
Elizabeth Olsen as MARTHA
John Hawkes as PATRICK
Sarah Paulson as LUCY
Hugh Dancy as TED
Brady Corbet as WATTS
Studio: Fox Searchlight
Directed by: Sean Durkin
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Back during award season, I had a chance to screen “Martha Marcy May Marlene,” but I had avoided as much about the movie prior to the screening as I could. When you’re a film critic, you’re often privy to a lot of information about movies, which can spoil them for you. At the same time, you’re also given the opportunity to see movies before many others do, so it is refreshingly possible to avoid spoilers.
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I had heard a lot of buzz about “Martha Marcy May Marlene,” particularly from people I know who have a great affinity to horror movies. And I can totally see where they are coming from with this film. While it doesn’t play out as a traditional horror movie, it has plenty of horrific elements to it.
The story follows a young woman named Martha (Elizabeth Olsen) who escapes from a cult. She contacts her sister (Sarah Paulson), who picks her up and takes her back to her vacation home. The movie is told in flashback with Martha remembering how she got sucked into the cult while also experiencing the paranoia that the cult is tracking her to bring her back.
Unencumbered by pretext, when I first saw the film, I wasn’t wild about it. However, watching it again on Blu-ray has let it grow on me a bit. The strongest technical element is the editing, which is deliberate and creative. Choices are made in how the shots are cut together that lets the audience experience Martha’s confusion.
Much of the film is slow paced and uncomfortable to watch. This isn’t a fast-movie feature, but rather a patchwork of emotions and memories giving insight into Martha’s fractured sanity.
There’s a bit of silly character moments, like when Martha tries to reach out to her former cult (even though she knows damn well they’ll know it’s her) as well as how her family ignorantly reacts to the situation. They never seem to ask her what happened specifically, and their choice of care goes from keeping her at home to putting her in a hospital with no consideration in between.
Still, this is a very real and very chilling look at cult behavior, and it’s understandable how this can unnerve parents who worry a lot about their adult children. It’s a slow burn, but it’s a good burn.
The Blu-ray includes the original short film “Mary Last Seen,” which featured similar subject matter to the film. There’s also a spotlight on Elizabeth Olsen, a featurette about the filmmakers, “The Making of Martha Marcy May Marlene,” “They Psyche of a Cult” and “The Story.” Finally, John Hawkes performs the song “Marcy’s Song” in a music video.