Watched Jun 25, 2012
Steve Grzesiak’s review:
The last time I saw John Hawkes in something was in Me And You And Everyone We Know and as is the case with everyone who was involved with that film, they are all guilty by association with Miranda July. I am prepared to hear the case to absolve him of his crime after Martha Marcy May Marlene, however.
This psychological drama, which sees Elizabeth Olsen fleeing from a secluded cult and taking refuge with her sister and her husband but continuing to be haunted by flashbacks to her time there, is a real slow-burner. Director Sean Durkin is quite happy to go nowhere fast for long stretches of the film, which is fair enough as it is a slight tale that actually does not have a huge amount to say.
What it does say, though, is very palatable for the most part and the story is a plausible one that is well told by an excellent assortment of performances. Elizabeth Olsen is exceptional in easily the most difficult role in the film and on the basis of this performance alone she has to be marked out as a truly great new talent. Hawkes is excellent, too, albeit in a less tricky role, while Sarah Paulson and Hugh Dancy are good as the sister and brother in law.
I couldn't help but feel right the way through that there was something bubbling under here that could easily turn Martha Marcy May Marlene into an outright classic. It just seemed to be missing something, whether it was the back-story as to why Olsen joined the cult in the first place or the actual motives of its leader, Hawkes. It's almost as if Durkin pulls back at the odd crucial moment and is far more happy to let the film continue along its fairly pedestrian pace.
That said, he could easily have botched the ending and I was glad that we were spared some hysterical siege ending for something that was rather more ambiguous. That's not to say I was fully satisfied by the ending, and it did not have the impact that I personally wanted, but it was certainly better than I expected.
I wouldn't say that Martha Marcy May Marlene is flawed by any means, because it really isn't. It just felt as though greatness was within its grasp but that it never really tried to reach for it. I don't blame Durkin for this in only his first feature length film, however, and it's still a fine film that says to me that he will certainly be one to watch.