Martha Marcy May Marlene


Clumsy title aside, this addition to the psychological thriller genre is head and shoulders above any recent contender due to an outstanding breakthrough performance from Elizabeth Olsen, a sharp script and direction from Sean Durkin alongside adept use of its audiences highly febrile imaginations. Never sliding into parody or cheap tactics the creepiest things in this film are those which are never mentioned, seen or discussed and this is what raises it to such a high level of suspense and intrigue. This method of not deploying the normal tactics in eliciting a chilly atmosphere results in the total absorption of events  and a further sense of dislocation is attained by cleverly splicing together two different time frames thus creating tension and a constant sense of not ever knowing what will happen next or even what has really happened before.

The main protagonist is Martha- who at various junctures also goes by the other three names of the films title – and her involvement with a cult. After making a break for reasons which remain undisclosed- though drugs and sex seem to play a role in their practises- she absconds to seek refuge with her elder sister Lucy(Sarah Paulsen) and newly wed husband Ted (Hugh Dancy) but her erratic behaviour causes tensions and they start to question her mental health. Throughout Martha/ Marcy May experiences difficulty in adapting to whatever environment she is in; the constrictions of one baffle her as much as the restrictions of the other until she is unaware of how to actually think for herself.

Despite this confusion and from the scenes we are allowed to witness, it would transpire that she is more comfortable with life within the cult although it becomes less-rather than more- clear as the film progresses as to why she ran away. There are hints that the sinister Patrick- a chilling John Hawkes- who is the patriarchal figure of the cult is the reason behind her defection but her relationship with Watts (Brady Corbet)-open sexual relationships appear to be the norm- cannot be totally dismissed either.

Martha Marcy May Marlene is a film which will stay with you long after its shocking conclusion, which only serves to baffle and render further confusion. It is a thought provoking thoroughly engrossing film throughout and is surely a contender for many awards most especially Olsen’s performance which is understated but effectively lethal.

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