Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011) Poster

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What's wrong with you?
ferguson-626 August 2011
Greetings again from the darkness. This one has been on my radar since the Sundance Festival and all the raves about Elizabeth Olsen's performance. After attending a screening last evening, I find myself at a loss to adequately describe not just her stunning turn, but also this unusual film from writer/director Sean Durkin.

On the surface, this sounds like just another movie peeking inside a creepy cult that brainwashes, and psychologically and physically abuses women, and is led by a charismatic (and creepy) religious style figure-head. There are many similarities to the Manson-family story of which much has been published, but Mr. Durkin takes the film in a much different and very creative direction by concentrating on what happens to Martha (Olsen) after she escapes the cult.

In the Q&A, Durkin states he did much research and found the most fascinating story to be that of a cult escapee and what she went through during her first three weeks of freedom. Martha sneaks out early one morning and places a panic call to her older sister, whom she hasn't communicated with in two years. Settling in to the lake house with big sis and new brother-in-law, it becomes quite obvious that Martha doesn't know how to fit in society and has absolutely no interest in discussing her recent past.

The sister is played very well by Sarah Paulson, and her husband is Hugh Dancy (so very good in Adam). This seemingly normal yuppie couple is trying to do right by Martha, but the fits of paranoia, outbursts of anger, and societal goofs are just too much for them.

The genius of this film is in the story telling. The cinematic toggling between today and moments of time at the cult farm house leads the viewer right into the confused mind of Martha. We don't get much back story but it's obvious she was "ripe" for cult world when she was chosen. We see how Patrick, the quietly charismatic leader, sings her a song and steals her heart ... she wants so much to belong. We also see how she bonds with the other women at the farm house, and ends up in a situation that seems to snap her out just enough so she finds the strength to leave. The editing of scenes between these two worlds in outstanding and serve to keep the viewer glued to the screen.

Last year I raved about an independent film called Winter's Bone. I chose it as one of the year's best and it ended with some industry award recognition. I am not willing to say this film is quite at that level, but I will say that the younger sister of the Olsen twins, Elizabeth, delivers an incredible first feature film performance and Sean Durkin deserves an audience for his first feature film as writer/director. Another bond between the two indies is that John Hawkes plays the cult leader Patrick, and Hawkes was a standout in Winter's Bone.

There will undoubtedly be some debate about whether this is cutting edge independent filmmaking or just another snooty art-house mind-messer. All I can say is, I hope the film grabs enough audience for the debate to matter ... it deserves it.
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Character development is not one of the film's strong points
howard.schumann6 November 2011
Warning: Spoilers
In first time director Sean Durkin's Martha Marcy May Marlene, Martha (Elizabeth Olsen), a young woman in her early twenties joins a commune in a wooded area in upstate New York and endures psychological and sexual abuse at the hands of charismatic leader Patrick (John Hawkes). Patrick is a Charles Manson look-alike, who calls Martha "Marcy May" (all women must use the name "Marlene" when answering the phone). Nothing is said about the reason the commune exists or what its philosophy may be, other than Patrick's misinterpretation of the Buddhist word "Nirvana", and his remark that death is but a continuation, not an end. We are not told the circumstances that led Martha to join the group, but we do know that her parents are deceased, and that her relationship with her older sister Lucy (Sarah Paulson) has been strained.

In the commune, women's role is subservient. They work in the garden and prepare the food but are allowed to eat only after the men are finished. They have no beds but sleep on mattresses on the floor in the same room. Their initiation is to be given drugs and brought to Patrick's room for sex. Apparently, the house has many babies but it is unclear who takes care of them. Although it is possible, even probable, that fringe groups such as these do exist, and that the director may have personal knowledge of them, the members of the commune, as depicted in the film, seem little more than dehumanized caricatures of how some think "free-love hippies," should look and act.

Without explanation, Martha suddenly leaves the commune and escapes into the surrounding woods, reaching town, though followed by Patrick's assistant Watts (Brady Corbet). Strangely, she goes to a restaurant in open view and, even more puzzling, Watts makes no attempt to restrain her and bring her back to the commune, odd behavior for a cult that doesn't hesitate to resort to murder. Somehow, Martha finds the inner resources to call her sister who brings her to their upscale lake house where she and her husband Ted (Hugh Dancy) live.

It is clear almost immediately that Martha is having trouble reconnecting with society, but she is apparently too traumatized to communicate with Lucy or Ted about her present emotions, recent past, or plans for the future.

The film continues on parallel tracks, flashing back to scenes from the commune and her life with her sister. The reason she left the commune becomes clearer when a flashback depicts a home invasion in which an innocent man is murdered. Martha's behavior at Lucy's home is unconventional, to say the least. She swims in the nude and inappropriately climbs into bed with Lucy and Ted when they are making love. She fears that she is being tracked down by cult members, but it is not clear whether this is real or imagined. Martha's trajectory continues downward, but no one seems to be able to get a handle on the situation.

There is no intervention by the family when it is clearly required, no growth or adjustment on Martha's part, and not a single moment of sunlight lightening the film's dark mood. There is also no evidence that her sister or her husband have the empathy to create a space safe enough for her to communicate. In a home seemingly shut off from the outside world with no television or Internet to be seen, and no thought of contacting a counselor or psychologist, all Lucy and Ted can do is to shout repeatedly, "What's wrong with you?" "There's something wrong with her," until it becomes risible. Ultimately, Ted and Lucy decide to act but it may be too late. In an ambiguous ending, Martha's fate is left open for the viewer to interpret.

Although the performances by Elizabeth Olsen and John Hawkes are outstanding, character development is not one of the film's strong points. Though it is billed as a psychological character study, Durkin does not provide enough insight into Martha's character, philosophy, or motives for us to identify with or care about what her fate may be. Martha Marcy May Marlene is a psychological thriller that is beautifully performed and, at times, gripping, but ultimately does not seem to have much point other than to tell us that destructive cults are …well…destructive, that they mess with your mind, and that failure to talk about them afterwards can mess up your head even worse.
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This is an unfinished movie....
ravebounty1 January 2012
Warning: Spoilers
*******SPOILER********* This was a film that started with excellent potential but cop-ed out at the end by having what people are defensively calling a "Non-Ending", which is utter bullshit.

Basically, the movie is fairly well made, keeping the viewer entranced enough to want more but always questioning where things are going. The movie is purposely vague and in the end, when you expect to finally learn something substantial, the movie simply goes to black without any resolutions; literally no pay off and no closure. It left a very bad taste in my mouth.

This is one of those lazy films that rather then entertain the audience with intrigue and then finally a climax, uses the viewers investment against them and pisses them off to get them to talk about the movie after it's over. Writing a movie with it's buzz in mind rather then it's context shows how much integrity the director has. For that reason, I say don't waste your time with this film because most regular film goers will feel betrayed and disappointed that the movie builds up to literally nothing.

The main protagonist was pretty decent, I must admit, but when you go over the entirety of the movie, it becomes pretty clear that it accomplished very little, always teasing that it had more, but then coming up completely short. You will be disappointed, guaranteed.
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Great idea in theory, not so great in practice.
nik-w-116 February 2012
Warning: Spoilers
Girl escapes insane cult, attempts to get her life back to normal but keeps having flashbacks. Sounds reasonable in theory, but it just does not work in this film.

Firstly, Elizabeth Olson acts her part pretty well, but it's not the hardest role to play - it basically consists of two mini-roles: 1) a normal 20-something girl, 2) A complete nutjob. Also, John Hawkes as the cult leader was played very well too. Sadly, no-one else acts particularly well, but a lot of that is because their parts are even worse. Her sister's part is basically to keep saying "Are you okay?" and "Why are you acting so crazy?", whereas her sister's husband has an even smaller repertoire - basically to continue going on about how he doesn't trust her, doesn't particularly like her, & thinks she needs sectioning.

There are some truly ridiculous plot lines in this film. Firstly, she goes to great lengths to run away from the cult & hide in the forest to avoid the people chasing her, yet she decides to go to the local burger bar in the town just down the road. Firstly, where does she get the money, and secondly - when one of the guys from the cult finds her, why is he content to just leave her there? All very bizarre.

There are so many jumps back and forth that it's hard to work out any kind of timeline as to what's going on. I get that she doesn't know if she's remembering or imagining, and that's good, but some sort of hint at a timeline would have been helpful.

The film lacked any kind of sense that it was going anywhere after the first 15 minutes... she escapes and goes to live with her sister until her and her husband get bored when they take her to an asylum - except she appears to be being followed by the cult leader (or is this just her imagination?)... there's no ending, no progression, and just a feeling of being no wiser at the end of the film than at the beginning and there was no sense of caring for the characters. Was I sad that she'd joined the cult? No. Did I feel for her sister and her husband at having to put up with her? No. Was I scared for her when it seemed the cult leader may be chasing her? No.
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More Than Meets the Eye
tappingjeff6 December 2011
Sean Durkin's first feature is quite the trip. Durkin's sensibility as a director shines with this film, and shows undeniable promise. The really crazy thing about this film is that it's quietness is only juxtaposed by the really messed up things that are happening in the plot. An intriguing analytical mess of reality, memory, and fantasy, Martha Marcy May Marlene is about a paranoia, an extreme desire to escape the past, though it always comes back to haunt you. It is the isolation and the trouble that comes with that, that Martha really suffers from-- the cult has a certain way of thinking and the film geniously explores the psychological persuasion into a way of thinking…the way that the cult tries to make their ethics and morality universal is a terrifying, and intriguing thing. Elizabeth Olsen does a helluva job as Martha, giving her dewey eyed complexity, both bewilderment, shock, disgust, and intrigue. She gives quiet moments great momentum, and is an actress to keep an eye on. Jody Lee Lipes' cinematography is eerily distant and then uncomfortably close; the mixed bag reflects Martha's psyche in an interesting way. The scariest thing about Martha Marcy May Marlene is that it actually could happen. It may have even benefited from taking that dive a bit further, let us know just how paranoid and altered Martha is, and especially contrasting that with the old Martha, and the only complaint I might have is that we never get to see what the original Martha was like; it is only inferred as to why she would even accept and join this group in the first place, or what exactly she was running away from. But perhaps that makes the film only more intriguing—running away brought her to this society, and of course it looks fine on the outside, with it's acceptable living conditions and always a "family' of sorts around you. But, ah, there's always more than meets the eye. B+
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Martha Marcy Maggie Mae
spiral544111 July 2012
Warning: Spoilers
Woman escapes from cult and fears reprisals from remaining cult members. There's your premise. So many endless, exciting possibilities for what a writer could do with such a premise, and yet what we are presented with is this: Martha Marcy May Marlene, which may as well have been called "Oh my god, you're not middle class anymore".

First of all, this is not a psychological thriller as has been described. It's not even really a drama. It's 2 hours of watching three people (one of whom has recently been through the interesting experience of joining, participating in, and escaping from a cult, but you never really get enough info about that to satisfy your intrigue) eat, drink, sleep, cook, clean, and make small talk, interspersed with the main character - Martha - displaying signs of being "deeply disturbed". But, with the exception of kicking her brother-in-law halfway down a flight of stairs, most of this supposedly outrageous behaviour is actually quite subtle etiquette-based faux pas that do not exactly make for an engaging cinematic experience.

As for the cult, you never find out what they're about, what they believe in, or what their purpose is. Occasionally, you'll get a little snippet of some half-baked philosophical belief, but not enough to build up any sort of idea of what they stand for. It's painfully obvious that the writer has put hardly any thought whatsoever into the background of the most important feature of the entire film.

On the plus side, the acting is OK, and the scenes are well-filmed. Big deal, not much of a consolation when you've just wasted 2 hours watching the cinematic equivalent of waiting for a kettle to boil, only to discover that you've forgotten to switch the plug socket on.

Oh and another thing I hated is that it's one of these films where you have to keep adjusting the volume because every so often there will be a scene where the actors mumble inaudibly for a little while, followed by a scene which is then way too loud in comparison. So also not a good movie if you like to watch films in bed and/or when someone is sleeping in the room next door.
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Tons of potential
itamarscomix3 June 2012
I'm tempted to give Martha Marcy May Marlene a higher rating than it deserves for what it could have been, not for what it is. It boasts two young talents who are showing tons of potential - director Sean Durkin and lead actress Elizabeth Olsen; Olsen's performance is subtle and effective, and Durkin's directorial work creates a strong sense of atmosphere, which is aided by the superb cinematography of Jody Lee Lipes (who also had very little prior experience in feature length films). It's a film that looks and sounds great, but unfortunately it doesn't mesh into a satisfying experience.

It's probably because there's so much potential and so much to explore, and so little of it is actually brought to fruition, that I left the film with a bitter taste of a missed opportunity. The cult, for example, is fascinating, seductive and nightmarish, and John Hawkes delivers outstandingly, but on closer inspection it looks like a perfectly generic hippie cult of the classic Manson prototype, and we get no hints of what their philosophy actually is, or about the personalities of any of the members. The same goes for the relationship between Martha, her sister and her brother in law, and most of all the ending, which suggests some very interesting subjects which the rest of the movie doesn't really explore.

To be clear: I don't object to open endings or films that leave a lot of information out to allow viewer interpretation, but in this case I felt it was done as a cover up for lack of decision on Durkin's part - a flawed script that doesn't really feel complete. I'll definitely check out his work in the future, but this film isn't quite there yet.
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dKolen17 October 2011
Warning: Spoilers
(SPOILERS THROUGHOUT) So you have a violent, murderous cult that kills innocent kittens (and innocent people too!) that barely cares when one of its members escapes (Lizzy Olson). Yes they tromp after her in the woods and she successfully hides. Yay! Lizzy escapes from the cult, but then she thinks it's wise to go into the town right outside where the cult is located. Oh Lizzy... why did you do that to us? What were you thinking? Don't you know they KILL people and will probably kill you if they find you? You should go further to a different town, or call for help immediately before you risk being caught! You never want to eat for the rest of the movie, why bother going to a restaurant, barely eating anything, and risk being caught? Anyway, she decides to eat at this restaurant. Then, OF COURSE one of the guys from the cult finds her chomping on some food at this restaurant. HOWEVER, for some unknown reason, he has a short conversation with her, and then he just allows her to walk. His motive you would think (as an evil violent killer) would be to either kidnap her again, or follow her back to where she's taking refuge. But neither of those things happen. No, it takes a curious phone call from the Lizzy back to the cult about 1.5 hrs into the 3 hour feeling movie--I get it she was a "teacher and a leader" with the cult and now she is being harassed by her sister's husband for being weird--before the question is asked: will the cult be able to find her? And what will they do? That question seriously should have been asked from the second she appeared at that house.

The illogical nature of the film continues on and on. Motives confound. Some of the writing is painful. The cinematography, which is lauded--I agree the framing and transitions are great--had some major issues with color and contrast in a lot of scenes. It didn't seem like an intentional creative mistake, just bad camera-work.

The film is divided into 2 parts: 1) scenes in the cult, and 2) Lizzy in the care of her sister. Back and forth. Back and forth. No real development. I wish this were based on a true story, then I think Durkin would have had a bit more to go off of, and the story would have felt believable. Instead, he has nothing but glimpses.

They say this film is filled with dread. But in order to have dread, you need to care for the characters. And what is this about Lizzy Olson's amazing performance? She plays plain Jane, and then crazy Jane. There isn't much middle ground, there is no devolution into madness. There's just normal and madness. It's just 2 notes, played repeatedly over and over. There's nothing to care for.

Above all implausibility and a two note script, was the worst part: the relationship between the 2 sisters in the "out of the cult" parts of the movie. It was the same monotony over and over and over again. Interesting set-up: sister (now crazy) escapes from cult and acts really weird, and she's now in her sister and husband's care. She acts weird, and her sister and husband have no idea what to do with her. But there's no real payoff or development. It's just like... sis is acting weird. Husband: "THERE'S SOMETHING WRONG WITH HER." Ya, of course there's something wrong with her, maybe you should take her to see a specialist asap, or maybe contact authorities. She's obviously the victim of a crime and has been abused, and guess what? Maybe YOUR LIVES ARE AT RISK TOO because you have crazy here. Who knows who may be looking for her? People who come out of bad relationships don't act like they were victims of some horrible crime unless they were. Anyway, logical thoughts didn't go through ANYONE'S heads in this film. I think the most logical thought was on the nature of death brought by John Hawkes, that no one dies, that death is just a transfer of life to an alternate reality, that no one dies. And unfortunately, the same thing was true with my 2 hours, sucked into the vortex of time transferred to the MMMM Gods. My 2 hours is gone from me, but someone was happy my fanny was in the seat--it fed someone's ego.

The redeeming qualities: John Hawkes is amazing. His performance of the song "Marcy" is haunting (I want a recording of that), and overall what he brings is a huge takeaway. I want to watch Winter's Bone again. Brady Corbet is incredible. He needs to be in more movies. He played opposite Joseph Gordon Levitt in Mysterious Skin, and I'm surprised his career didn't take like JGL's has done. I wish the film had more of those guys, but it wouldn't have been the same movie. It may have actually been good. The premise is pretty kick-ass. The trailer is sweet. It made me excited for the movie. The sex scenes were well done and messed up. Basically every scene with Hawkes was excellent, and most scenes with Corbet were good. The transitions between the two realities were handled well and made you feel a sense of disorientation.

2/10: For the love of God, don't get sucked up into the hype and spend $10 and 2 hours of your time, or if you bring a date, pay to drive there, get some popcorn, spend like $25-$30 on this movie. It's not worth it. Disappointing.
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Bleakly depressing
MovieBuff578 January 2013
Warning: Spoilers
Another bleakly depressing movie about mental illness that neither explains the reasons for it or the possible remedies.

What do we go to the movies for? To be cheered up, entertained or informed - I would speculate - and this movie never ticked any of those boxes.

The apparent motiveless murder of a householder that we have to imagine (because we're not told) borders the commune's farm serves absolutely no purpose other than to give the the leading actress a fright?

Just to top off 100 minutes of tedium it ends very abruptly, possibly with some sort of hidden meaning (probably not though)? A misery-fest from start to finish it has to be said.
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Weird, but in a Good Way
BookSplotReviews29 March 2012
Elizabeth Olsen's acting in Martha Marcy May Marlene is really fantastic (it may or may not be her first feature film, not sure which she did first this or Silent House). Her acting combined with the background we get make it easy to see how someone could be drawn into a cult - and stay for so long despite the abusiveness.

The interactions between Martha, her sister and her brother-in-law are downright strange at times but not in a 'hunh?' way at all. They're strange in a way that actually makes perfect sense for the characters and the experiences they've had.

I was really disappointed by the very, very, very end of the film - but I liked the other 100 or so minutes enough that I can forgive it (or forget about it). That and I really can't wait to see Elizabeth Olsen in something else.
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Pretty Vacant
cmoyton15 December 2012
Warning: Spoilers
Again i find myself at odds with all the luvies who judge at film festivals and scribe for the dwindling number of movie magazines. Truly there is an inversely proportional relationship between the number of plaudits received and the quality of the movie and this sucks big time.

All Olsen has to do here is phone in a performance like she did in Silent House- the vacant stare, the odd mannerisms after being conditioned by the cult and while there is some amusement initially seeing her trying to fit into normality after being picked up by her sister this quickly becomes grating. The non linear flashback plot renders the film incomprehensible as it approaches its non ending. The non ending has become so de rigueur these days. It's a convenient get out of jail free card for lazy story telling. The pacing is abysmal - that's what editing is for Mr Director. There are too many long drawn out tedious scenes usually accompanied by droning electronic music - much in the same style David Lynch used in Lost Highway. But the difference being that Lynch is a master at pretentious art-house mind bending story telling.
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Not Great
rebecca-ry7 June 2012
This film got a lot of praise and was even described as one of the best films of 2011, after watching it I find it hard to see why people would say that.

The content is good, the story is of a girl trying to adapt back to normal life after escaping a cult. It is edited in a very clever way, with flashbacks to memories of the cult dotted throughout. Each flashback's beginning is similar to the real life situation. As the film progresses the flashbacks become longer and her reaction to them becomes more severe but this is as far as the film goes. Elizabeth Olsen was very good and this is a great debut for her. Other performances in the film were pretty weak and the storyline at some points can be weak too.

At some points it feels like the film is trying too hard to be unique. It deliberately doesn't explain certain things like why the sisters' lives went on such different paths perhaps because they wanted to leave so much of this film's content for the viewers to question. It just makes you more and more frustrated, especially when the credits begin to roll and you realise that there was no real climax or even a resolution worthy of making this film one of the best of 2011.

The way in which this film is shot is great, the saturated colour scheme portrays Martha's bleak perception of life and works wonders for the tone of the film.

Overall, this film would have been great if they had just finished the story. Elizabeth Olsen has proved her capabilities in this and hopefully will move onto better films. I would not really recommend this film, it's not a film anyone NEEDS to see but it's not terrible, the film is good but more would have been better.
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The acting was fine - given the horrid script.
bowieec14 October 2011
Warning: Spoilers
This film was AWFUL. I have never seen so many clichés in one film. This was a movie about cults that apparently has never read an article or seen another, better, film about cults. Just to keep it alliterative, I wish they'd added "Manson" to the title - because it could've been on a lateral plane with that cult. A woman exiting the screening looked at me and said "I've never seen a cult that boring -- why did she wait so long to leave?" It really was every 70's cliché you've ever seen (and not missed). The audience all started laughing half-way through the screening. It was in NO WAY about the actors. They were all pretty good. It was the script -- so hacky and horrid. And the consensus is that the Olsen sister (who is a fine up and coming actress) looks like the love-child of Maggie Gyllenhaal and Scarlett Johansson. That's not a bad thing -- just distracting. We all like Sarah Paulson - but she's been given the most unbelievable lines of anyone. When someone acts COMPLETELY PSYCHOTIC several times and you keep saying "Why are you acting like this? What the hell is wrong with you?" and you still resist getting that person treatment - well, it's your own fault what will happen... Overall there was not one surprise plot-wise in the entire film - just lots of the audience heaving heavy sighs from watching an unintelligible bad decision and giggles from seeing the cliché "cult" dialogue between the demagogue and the unfortunate female victim. And the Helter-Skelter house robbery - ridiculous. I have never left before the Q&A at a screening -- until tonight. My only question would have been: Did you read the script? Then why did you do this movie???? Awful.
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Should be retitled "A Star is Born"
DonFishies24 September 2011
Moments after the credits began, I knew Elizabeth Olsen was destined for the Oscar red carpet for her work in Martha Marcy May Marlene. It was a quiet thriller I knew very little about content wise before hand, but knew all about the acclaim it has received since premiering at Sundance and Cannes earlier this year. When it came to the Toronto International Film Festival, it was one of the first films I clamoured for tickets for. And now I know why.

Martha (Olsen) has fled an abusive cult lead by Patrick (John Hawkes). After years of being off-the-grid, she calls her estranged sister Lucy (Sarah Paulson) to pick her up from a bus shelter. Lucy brings her to the lakeside cottage she shares with her new husband Ted (Hugh Dancy), where they are to spend some much needed time away from their lives in the city. But as Martha tries to adjust back to a normal life, she is continually haunted by the memories of her life in the cult.

I was initially underwhelmed walking out of Sean Durkin's debut feature, loving Olsen's performance but not much else. But as the days have gone on, I continually find myself obsessing on every moment of Martha Marcy May Marlene. Despite the backwoods feel and its atmospheric similarities to last year's Best Picture nominee Winter's Bone, this film is just simply unmissable. It is deeply unsettling throughout, and one of the few films that succeed in making the audience deeply uncomfortable. I usually find myself shifting in my seat from boredom. Here, I was shifting just because of how quietly terrified and incredibly disgusted I was with what was going on on-screen. It is a moody piece, but one that sticks with you and scares you more every time you talk and think about it. And it is that feeling, that earnest inner torment that keeps bringing me back and appreciating it more and more.

Durkin brilliantly frames the film in a similar vein to Memento, jumping back and forth between Martha at her sister's cottage in the present and her life in the cult in the past. He weaves in and out of the timelines with care, never once confusing the audience. We simply watch as Martha tries to get on with her life, but keeps finding things that remind her of moments she spent in the cult. He frames the story entirely around her, allowing her unreliability to throw the story into off-putting and disturbing directions. I found myself simply stunned by some of the unbelievable things that occur without warning. Nothing too horrific physically happens, but Durkin makes the implications of what is even more so. More impressive is how no one thing in the film feels insignificant. They all just add up on top of each other magnificently, and help drive the paranoia that plagues Martha from scene to scene, just as much if not more than it does for the audience.

Olsen has appeared in a few films before her work here, but this is an incredibly impressive true debut film for her. Her performance is simply unbelievable and unmissable. Watching her transformation from naïve teenager to paranoid, PTSD victim on-screen is one of the few absolutely amazing moments of film we have had this year. It is made even better by the fact that the film is not even told in sequence, so we are forced to watch her navigate between the depictions with relative ease. Watching her character's arch blossom into something terrifying is something that has become truly rare for such a young, unaccomplished actress. But she makes it work, and forces the audience to never take their eyes off her. She just ups the ante with every scene, and undercuts every actor who she shares the screen with. She is magnetic, and commands the screen with such strength that you would never even pretend to imagine that she is related to the Olsen Twins. Whatever doubts I may have had about the film did not even come close to quashing her compelling and spectacular performance.

Hawkes continues to prove what a remarkable supporting player he is with his work as the leader of the cult. He is always frightening and nightmarish from the very beginning, but seeing him differing forms of sincerity make him a genuinely scary villain. We practically scream at the screen before and after what he puts Martha (or as he calls her, Marcy May) through, and his performance is one of the key reasons why the film is so vividly unsettling. Watching Hawkes playing the guitar and serenading her with a tune he wrote "about her", may go down as one of the most horrific scenes in film history.

Paulson and Dancy do a fairly great job in their thankless roles as Martha's actual family. They help propel the film forward and make Olsen's role all the more fantastic, but I found that they were not given all that much to do outside of helping move the story forward. Paulson does get some very juicy moments, but I think their roles could have been all the better if they had so much more to do. They just seemed like mere plot devices more so than anything else.

While there is still something I still cannot quite describe that holds Martha Marcy May Marlene back from being the best film of the year, I cannot stop thinking about how powerful and great it really is. It is an ambiguous film that stays with you long after you leave the theatre and one that packs one of the single best performances of the year. This is an incredible directorial debut for Durkin, and an even better one for Olsen. Missing this film when it hits theatres is quite simply unacceptable.

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Martha, Marcy May, and Marlene all caught between truth, sanity and madness
napierslogs12 November 2011
Martha (Elizabeth Olsen) is a character who has forgotten what it means to be normal. Marcy May is a character who has been taught to ignore social values and any definition of "normal." Martha and Marcy May is the same person and that's where the conflict lies. "Martha Marcy May Marlene" is a dramatic character study which edges towards psychological thriller.

Martha has run away from the hippie commune where she was living as Marcy May. She calls her sister. Lucy (Sarah Paulson) is worried but happy to help. With a good night's sleep, dinner and breakfast, and better clothes, Martha should be fine. But the longer she lives with her sister and brother-in-law (Hugh Dancy), the harder it is for her to separate memories from dreams, right from wrong, and good people from bad people.

Overall, the film is slow and silent, not usual traits for a psychological thriller. But concerns for Martha's mental health grow wildly. The character of Martha, Marcy May, and Marlene is just so endearing, she's somebody you want to care for. I'm not one for the hippie lifestyle or their false ideals (and I don't think the filmmaker is either) but Marcy May just embodied the innocence of it so beautifully. Olsen has this tender powerfulness that suited the character (or characters) perfectly; she made you hold on to her with her all-knowing eyes and earnest desire to understand who she is.

With a modest budget and a somewhat original way of showing madness mixing with sanity, shot and performed beautifully, "Martha Marcy May Marlene" should be in the running for all the major Independent Spirit Awards. As the first feature for both writer/director Sean Durkin and star Elizabeth Olsen, it certainly is a stunning debut.

Before you venture into the mind of "Martha Marcy May Marlene" I will leave you with a final thought. Marlene will not tell the truth; Martha doesn't tell the truth mostly because she can't because she doesn't know what it is anymore; Marcy May wants to tell the truth.
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WTF! still waiting
PalmTreezz14 September 2012
Warning: Spoilers
Wait wait wait for something to happen....but alas...not really anything. I agree with others that they copied parts of Charles Mansons story and also that the actress did a very good job. But I just wasted an hour and half. Lots of confusion for me, is that the same girl in the flashback? Are they flashing back now? Is that her mom? her friend? finally....they say sister. Why won't she tell her sister anything she is putting her and her husband at risk. How did she get in the cult to begin with? And then ....of course.... HOW does the story end? What happens to her? AAaaahhhh I'm frustrated. I felt like the whole film needed more characters and more scenery. There were pauses that were just too long and I'm not an impatient person, just a reason for the pause would be nice.
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This was a movie that I would not recommend to anyone.
ausicakes24 February 2012
Warning: Spoilers
This was the worst movie I have ever seen. The cult wasn't even a cult. It was more like a group of group of people having sex with another after being given the date rape drug. What was the reason for the cult being created anyway? If you're going to have a cult, then at least tell the reason behind it. It showed one rape scene and that was supposed to make Martha crazy? Were there any other reasons? Also, there wasn't even any disturbing violence. Oh no wait, one guy got stabbed and it was the most gruesome thing I have ever seen. And how could the sister not tell that Martha had issues and was not right in the head? Wouldn't she question her about where she went, who she met, and events that happened? This movie left so many blanks and did not put much thought into the character's intelligence. This movie failed to capture my interest and I would not recommend it to anyone.
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Depressing, but elaborate story that obscures the boundary between normal and abnormal
Arit4 February 2011
Warning: Spoilers
I watched this film last month in Salt Lake City at the Sundance Film Festival. Even though I didn't find it particularly entertaining, I noticed this Jury Award winner for directing had no user review yet, so I thought I'd throw in my two cents' worth.

The film starts out with the lead character Martha (Elizabeth Olsen) running away from what seems to be a self-sustaining rural establishment of several youths led by a middle aged man (John Hawkes), and trying to rediscover herself as she seeks shelter under her older sister's roof. The story then unfolds in two convoluted threads; one that takes place in reality where she tries to adapt to her sister's and brother-in-law's high-maintenance life, and one that harks back to the memories of the cult that exploited her in the name of a meaningful relationship. As the boundary between the two threads becomes vague, we see Martha plunge into abysmal depression, to make us all fret that she may be already damaged beyond the point of no repair.

The depiction of the main character's endless descent is a turn off for a casual film watcher like myself, who'd like to see a glimmer of hope in the most depressing of films. However, there is no denying the film is well-executed, shot in serene rustic settings with grappling performances by the cast.

Elizabeth Olsen swings back and forth between Martha's normal and abnormal moments with great authenticity. Not only she is effortless in doing so, she also hints at sibling rivalry with a terrific nuance. This film should put her on "25 emerging actresses under 25" or some similar lists if she hasn't been recognized yet.

Fans of John Hawkes's will not be disappointed, as he gives another solid performance as a backwoods haggard, but this time sans the heroic aura he had in Winter's Bone. In one scene, he even takes the guitar out and serenades Martha with disturbingly eloquent lyrics.

The director, Sean Durkin, is certainly on top of his game and succeeds in just showing the "basic human needs to belong to a group." However, what he expects us to take away from the film is not entirely clear to me. I just hope he uses his great skills for more pleasant themes in the future.
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Suspense, fear, & psychological manipulation there are aplenty - but that is all there is
chaz-283 November 2011
Martha Marcy May Marlene continuously cuts back and forth between past and present. However, the audience could have used a lot more past and a bit more present to help understand more about Martha (Elizabeth Olsen). The past shows Martha's introduction to a reclusive cult deep in the Catskill Mountains in upstate New York. The present reveals it is two years later, Martha has decided to escape the cult, and shacks up with her sister and brother-in-law in an upscale Connecticut lakeside community.

First time feature writer/director Sean Durkin is a bit manipulative with his script and shot choices. Frequently, you have to wait a moment or two to figure out if this new scene is in the past or present; it shows early on he is going to play with your mind to make you guess what it is until a character walks on screen. This mirrors what is supposedly going on in Martha's head; she is having some major psychological trouble differentiating between her present surroundings and her experiences from the past two years.

It is up to the audience to interpret how Martha wound up in the company of the cult; the film does not show you that. Also, Martha must be extremely naïve, gullible, or downright accepting of cultish behavior because her assimilation is quite easy. Sharing beds, clothes, household chores, and each other's bodies comes quite naturally to her. Even after a drugging and rape, Martha just shrugs it off as her introduction to the 'family'. Through conversations with her sister in the present, you learn mom died young and dad is never mentioned but her early childhood experiences do not sound very much like they were setting young Martha up to be swallowed up by rapist farmers.

Back to the manipulation. Both segments, past and present, start very much in serene settings. The commune Martha joins is very accepting, calm, and the people provide a lot of compliments about her strong character and leadership skills. The present segment is on a beautiful lake in a gigantic house with supportive relatives. Then each respective scene adds an unsettling layer until by the end, these troubling and disturbing layers feel crushing. Events at the commune upset Martha to the point of breaking down and events in the present lake house are all of Martha's doing because she has brought some extreme paranoia and cascading delusions with her after her escape.

I do not recommend this film. The director made some creative editing choices and is very effective at building suspense, but that is all it is. The ability to muster unrelenting suspense and dread is not the only element to make an effective movie. I became very tired of watching Martha heap abuse and vitriol at her relatives who put up her ridiculous behavior much longer than most people would. I also grew impatient watching Martha get sucked into a cult through outrageously obvious maneuvers.

Why is the film world falling in love with Martha? Almost every critic lauds its suspense and acting, Durkin won Best Director at Sundance, and it was included in the Cannes Un Certain Regard section. For Elizabeth Olsen, it was a very impressive first role, but I disagree that she has done anything amazing here. She spends the majority of the movie just looking sheepish around John Hawkes and annoyed at her relatives.

Break out of the spell Martha Marcy May Marlene is trying to ensnare you in. Perhaps it is a cult itself and you do not realize how deep you are being manipulated by it until the preposterous and absurd ending.
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Another non-ending movie ...
barkdoll24 October 2012
This is a shoddy, pathetic job of a movie and waste of time. In order for this to be a successfully suspenseful movie at least one of the characters should be reasonably interesting or likable. Unfortunately that is not the case here.

Furthermore, many questions are raised in the movie but few are answered or even addressed by the time the ending rolls around.

Oh, did I actually say "ending"? My mistake. There was no ending! Just a cut to black and credits start rolling. There was a time right before the credits start - ordinarily this would be the "ending" - where the movie could have been redeemed and, just barely, saved from the dung heap. But no, the creators copped out and =cut to black here...= (It's not any better when it happens in the movie)

Skip this one.
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What a piece of crap.
chevyheston3 March 2012
Seriously. This movie was just flat-out awful. I can think of 59 other things you could do that would be more entertaining than this film. Plucking out your eye or jabbing a screwdriver into your ear would be two of them. Seriously. Awful. Here's the plot: a girl joins a cult (why she joined the cult or what happened to her in the past that made her fall easy prey to a cult would have been two things that could have been explained). Then she decides to escape the cult. She calls her sister to come get her (I wish the sister had called me to ask my advice - I would have told her find another movie). The sister brings her home and the girl begins experiencing flashbacks to her days with the cult and launches into a movie's worth of erratic behavior. You start out feeling bad for her, but after 10 minutes, you feel worse for all the actors stuck in this crappy movie and for yourself, because you have paid to watch a crappy movie. Despite her wacky behavior, the sister never asks her "what happened to you?" Because the answer should have been, "I'm in a crappy movie and I can't get out." Spare yourself this movie. And to whoever wrote this lame film, can I have my $5.99 back?
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A well acted film with a limited story line
jennifer_reed_118 November 2011
"Martha Marcy May Marlene" is an above average movie. The acting is strong, the topic important, and technically it is good enough for what this movie needs. That said the story leaves you more with feeling that you just watched a news segment on sexual abuse by cults on runaway girls rather than anything cinematic.

Elizabeth Olson, John Hawkes, Sarah Paulson, and Hugh Dancy all deliver on performance in difficult scenes and keep you engaged. But the directing and writing is so obviously directed towards an awards and critics pleasing campaign that it seems to detract from what could have been an otherwise very strong film.

Was it worth seeing. Yes. Would I recommend it. Maybe. Would I see it again. No Way.

I just left the theater feeling depressed, paranoid, and missing something from this film. The promo campaign on this film seems headed for awards season with tried and true tactics and I am sure they will be temporarily successful but forgotten long term.
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don't waste your time
rjperry-323 February 2012
Martha Marcy May Marlene is a movie I fully regret wasting my time watching. While the acting was pretty good, I have to wonder if the actors or the director had any real idea what the story was about. The movie really has no beginning. It starts out in the middle of this young woman's problem and never really explains how or why she got there. I continued watching, believing that the story had to go somewhere. I was very wrong. While having no real beginning it also just ends with no explanation, real or imagined. The moviegoer never gets enough information, in the movie, to even guess where the the story came from or where it was going.
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great actors, shoddy production, over-hyped
alarico-17 November 2011
Warning: Spoilers
This movie features great performances by very good actors, but half of the time you can't see their faces because they are too dark or are out focus, so it's hard to tell.

At first I noticed dull colors and a lot of soft focus and I thought the DP was trying to create a mood with this, but then I realized that no, there's a lot of shoddy camera work here. Sometimes scenes are well lit and beautiful and sometimes they just look dark with blacks crushed and you can't see a thing, and it's completely random when this happens.

Shallow depth of field is overused and abused here. One clear example of this is when the sister is at the kitchen counter and the husband comes in to talk: notice that he's completely out of focus even when he's speaking. There is no dramatic necessity to keep the guy blurry when he's hitting his marks here-- Martha has walked away and there's no need for things to be "dreamlike"-- it looks like crap and it's distracting. There were many other moments like this and I don't want to create spoiler-- see them for yourself.

The sound was pretty bad too. When the sisters are in the garden talking the dialog goes in and out as Martha moves her face to the sides. Earth to boom operator: wake the hell up. Also there often was distortion when voices were overly bassy-- not sure if this problem was in micing the scene or post-production but come on, is everyone deaf?

I read an article in some pamphlet that praised the movie's "seamless technical proficiency" and I thought they are either on crack or they are paid shills. Yes, Sean Durkin did a great job of directing his actors, and the actors were great, but next time please hire a seasoned professional to overlook the technical aspects of the production--particularly, getting the film exposed correctly.

I also had a problem with the story. The parallel narrative was fine by me, it just took forever to develop and then the movie just ends. In the room where I was, you could hear a "baah!" of dissatisfaction rising from the audience when the credits came up. I don't need a Hollywood ending or some sort of traditional narrative, but this movie never builds any kind of tension or momentum, it just gets lost in a very long cinematic exposition.

Verdict: a waste of great talent.
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Just watched it on DVD - it was OK but I was a bit disappointed
jebophos28 July 2012
Warning: Spoilers
OK this movie did have it's highlights. Elizabeth Olsen was great in it, and as a matter of fast so was all of the acting. But the story and ending were frustrating beyond belief. Why was Martha unable to tell her sister she had been in a cult? It had only been 2 years and she clearly was in touch enough to remember life before the cult (asking about the aunt). I think the story tried to portray their relationship as too dysfunctional for her to be able to, but the story failed. If I had someone who even remotely cared about me and I had been in that situation I would spill the beans and try to nail those murderous b-tards! I checked the "spoiler" box only because am I the only one that didn't get the ending? She is apparently being taken to therapy/asylum and someone is following them and Blam! The End! I ask pray tell, why Hollywood sees fit to end movies with the audience hanging and wondering WTF? It's not fun, not "artsy", and only makes us ask. How can I get back the 90 minutes of my life? I gave this movie a 5 but only for acting. The plot and story get a 0 or 1.
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