Reviewed Mar 17, 2012
Jessy Williams’s review:
Sean Durkin makes his directorial debut with the psychological thriller Martha Marcy May Marlene. The film received its theatrical release on 3rd February 2012, but premiered at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival and won Durkin the Dramatic Directing Award.
Elizabeth Olsen is the star of the film; playing the lead role of Martha/Marcy May. She is a character who has recently escaped the clutches of an evil cult and is attempting to settle herself back in to reality. However, her pretence of normality soon begins to fade, and it is not too long before she becomes hopelessly paranoid, expecting the members of the cult to track her down.
It seems as though Elizabeth Olsen has successfully steered clear of being associated with her older twin sisters Mary-Kate and Ashley. It would probably be right in saying a lot of you did not realise there was a third Olsen sister at all. However, emerging out of her sisters’ shadow is the surprisingly talented Elizabeth. She brilliantly and believably depicts the confused and emotionally-scarred Martha (Marcy May to those in the cult) and she definitely deserves all the praise she has been receiving. Her performance gets stronger as the film goes on and her perfect ability to make the audience believe in her character’s memories is a sure sign of an actress that has a lot more to offer. With at least six more films in the pipeline, Elizabeth Olsen is a definite new actress to look out for.
Martha Marcy May Marlene is very unsettling. The minimal use of music and the lack of information fed to the audience helps to create an uneasy atmosphere. This feeling is carried on throughout the film, and as Martha begins to question her ability to differentiate between dreams and reality, the audience are no closer to having their questions answered.
If there is a film that will keep its audience utterly engrossed, yet, not let them in on every detail, Martha Marcy May Marlene is it. The film’s structure emphasises its desire to keep you guessing, with its abrupt shifts between the past and present. This technique is handled very well, and the transitions between Martha’s life in the cult and her time at home are smooth and, often, unnoticeable. For example, Martha will jump in to the lake at her home, and suddenly, time has shifted and Martha is swimming with members of the mysterious cult.
Not a lot is known of the cult, yet, there is a definite understanding that they are up to no good. With their talks of “cleansing” and one members sinister demand of “share yourself. Don’t be selfish,” it is clear that Martha was correct in her idea to run away. Despite this, the poor girl appears unable to adjust to a regular life.
The simplicity of Martha Marcy May Marlene adds to its near perfection. The technique of showing contrasts between Martha and her family help emphasise the extent of the wrong-doing that has been done to her. There are no silly gimmicks here, everything you see is pure and presented in a not at all pretentious manner. The camera shots are simple and the film successfully relies on storytelling and dialogue to grip its audience.
As the film progresses we witness Martha’s descent in to complete despair. Her emotional state withers and wanes like the water she likes to be immersed in. Elizabeth Olsen wonderfully and believably portrays Martha and brings her character to life during some hard-hitting moments.
Martha Marcy May Marlene will definitely linger with you long after you have watched it. It completely achieves its aim to present a plausible and thoroughly intriguing piece of filmmaking. With a magnificent debut from Elizabeth Olsen, Martha Marcy May Marlene is one of the best films of 2012, so far.