Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011)

Holy intense shit, Batman! This film pivots around the growing ‘disconnect’ of a young cult follower who is driven to flee by the growing criminality of her ‘family’ in rural Upstate New York. After being taken in by her estranged older sister and her husband, the normalcy of their domestic lives begins to take it’s psychological toll on the damaged title character as she tries to work through her conflicting feelings of guilt, self-alienation and belonging. As Martha, Elizabeth Olsen (younger sis of the horrid Olsen Twins) is a powerhouse of a performer here, giving the quietly traumatized girl equal doses of empathy and apathy as her flashbacks begin to overlap and intrude on the safety net that her caring but flawed sister tries to provide. The portrayal of the cult could’ve been handled in a far more extreme and cartoonishly dark fashion. Instead there’s an inherent, if sinister, tangibility to the interactions of the members as we’re exposed to more and more of their collective lives. They’re like a country version of the Manson Family…minus the rampant drug abuse and racial bigotry. In particular, John Hawkes (American Gangster) gives a subtly riveting performance as the leader Patrick, a charismatic sociopath with a quiet confidence in his control. Technically, this film reminded me, in many ways, of another 2011 release I recently reviewed, Sleeping Beauty. The two movies share a deliberate, even pacing and Spartan camera work that doesn’t distractingly partake in the unfolding events, it merely shows us what is happening as it happens. And again, minimal use of music score compliment the uneasy mood of this one VERY well. Adding to the tone is the apparently heavy use of natural light, further accenting the believable performances by not distracting with a flashy, obviously artificial sheen. The non-linear transitions between the ‘now’ and the ‘then’ are creative and competent, smoothly filling in blanks for us while effectively upping the tension and under-current of dread that permeates the whole film. And the ending? I have to leave THAT opinon to you. It will polarize its audience…guaranteed. For the more discerning movie-goer, I highly recommend this engrossing psychological character study.


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