Reviewed Mar 06, 2012
Adam Cook’s review:
Cults in movies are rarely subtle; they deal with larger than life crazy leaders, overt physical and mental abuse and normally end in a blood bath. Martha Marcy Mar Marlene is not that film, it is far more suggestive than explicit and keeps much of its ‘action’ off screen. The subtlety works in its favour, there is a sense of dislocation and even disorientation during the film that puts the audience in a similar mental state to Martha. The non-linear narrative is not just a novelty but an important representation of the character’s emotional condition. The jumps back and forth between commune life and ‘normal’ family life are expertly handled as the two gradually bleed into the same space and time.
Elizabeth Olsen is stunning in an unshowy but totally captivating performance. There is no Oscar baiting grandstanding here, just an honest and raw portrayal of a damaged and confused woman. She is the heart and soul of the film and whilst the rest of the cast are very good it is very much her film. It is a little disappointing to see John Hawkes receive such little screen time. Whilst he is excellent in the small role, and the character is rightly underplayed, the film would have benefited more from his manipulative presence because the film brims with tension when he is on screen.
The film builds slowly, some may find it too slow but there are always interesting details or revealing character moments to ever find it boring, and the longer Martha spends in the normal world the more dislocated from it she becomes. The director does a fantastic job of teasing this sense of foreboding and inevitable clash of the two worlds.
Well crafted and enthralling.