Stars: Elizabeth Olsen, John Hawkes, Sarah Paulson, Hugh Dancy
Director: Sean Durkin
Writer/director Sean Durkin had the opportunity to play up some of the more positive aspects of communal living--such as cooperative effort, family values, and...uhh...you never have to look far to find a babysitter! Instead, in Martha Marcy May Marlene he gives us the stereotypical cult with a charismatic, sociopathic leader--a la Charlie Manson--who lures wayward waifs away from their homes with a bunch of double speak and new-age mumbo jumbo.
When we join young Martha, (Elizabeth Olsen--who bears a striking resemblance to her famous older sisters, Mary Kate and Ashley, but with more meat on her bones) she is making her getaway from said commune in the Catskills. She calls her sister--the only family she has left--and in a halting conversation, is torn between wanting to return to normal society, or going back to the farm. And therein lies the crux of the film. When Martha moves in with sister Lucy, (Sarah Paulson) and her prickly husband, Ted, (Hugh Dancy) the emotional conflict she experiences builds into something progressively darker for the audience, as the events of her time with the clan are juxtaposed against the present in continual flashback/flash forward fashion. It's an effective device. Martha Marcy May Marlene is like a story of parallel universes, where similar kinds of events occur in very different ways.
Martha--who also goes by the other names in the title at one time or another--is a haunted and deeply disturbed young girl. Not only by what has previously occurred, but by the psychological hold the cult and its messianic leader (John Hawkes) still maintains over her.
A word of caution. Don't blink or you'll miss the ending. Some will no doubt be disappointed by it. But the more I think about it, it may be perfect. It's creepy and foreboding...I'll say that much.
THE FINAL WORD
Good performances all around, especially from Elizabeth Olsen in her first starring role. She strips her soul bare, and strips off her clothes.
WHAT MORE COULD WE ASK?
And though I'm a little disturbed (but probably not as disturbed as Martha) that there may be an intended anti-naked hippie message here, (my roots, man...my roots) Martha Marcy May Marlene obviously wouldn't work without it. So I'm willing to forgive.
Grade: B +