Martha Marcy May Marlene

Rated R 120 min. 2011

Martha Marcy May Marlene presents a young woman trapped between two worlds. Having escaped an insular cult in the Catskills presided over by guitar-strumming head-hippie Patrick (John Hawkes), Martha (Elizabeth Olsen) has sought refuge at her older sister Lucy (Sarah Paulson) and husband Ted’s (Hugh Dancy) vacation home in Connecticut. But even hours away, Martha is haunted by her memories of the cult — and a feeling that its members are watching her. How much is her imagination and how much is real is left unsaid by newbie director Sean Durkin. Renamed Marcy May by Patrick, the film’s title indicates a young woman straddling two worlds, trying to decide, in many ways, between the lesser of two evils. Though Martha never tells Lucy the exact nature of her distress, only that she has broken up with a bad boyfriend, there are many indications that all is not right in Martha’s world. She is fragile, paranoid, and often inappropriate, crawling into Lucy and Ted’s bed one night as they have sex. As the film unfolds and moves back in time to Martha’s life with the back-to-nature cult, a picture emerges of the source of her strange behavior. An impressive mood piece and promising debut for Olsen, Martha Marcy May Marlene unfortunately lacks the substance to go with its beguiling look and feel. Its halting pace and hollow effect make it feel like grade-A Sundance bait: a little sexy, a little creepy, a little vague, and very stylized. Martha comes off as a little too knowing, too entitled, too bratty, and ultimately too ill-defined to be the succulent victim Durkin wants her to be. As played by Olsen, Martha often seems less traumatized and more like she’s just returned from a junior year abroad in Guatemala with a massive chip on her shoulder.

Film Credits

Official Site:

Director: T. Sean Durkin

Writer: T. Sean Durkin

Cast: Elizabeth Olsen, John Hawkes, Sarah Paulson, Brady Corbet, Hugh Dancy, Louisa Krause, Maria Dizzia, Julia Garner and Christopher Abbott

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