Martha Marcy May Marlene is an absorbing film, and an impressive feature debut from writer-director Sean Durkin.
After escaping a cult, Martha calls her sister Lucy to rescue her. Staying with Lucy and her husband Ted, Martha struggles to adjust to normality. As she spends time with the couple, Martha is haunted by memories of her past…
Martha Marcy May Marlene successfully conveys the unease of such a cult. The film plays on the viewer’s distrust of such a set up, offering plenty which causes discomfort. At the same time, it is not difficult to see that the initial warmth shown to Martha would have been welcomed by a lonely and naïve girl.
The flashback format of storytelling is executed well in Durkin’s film. Martha Marcy May Marlene retains a sense of mystery. The film does not give the audience all of the answers, and is more intriguing because of this. For instance, the reasons for Martha ending up in such a situation are not fully revealed. It is apparent that she have had some struggles earlier in her life, but these are not explicitly detailed. In this way, Martha’s story could be more or less the same as the other young people involved in the cult. The film thus works on a wider scale, highlighting the attraction of a “new family” for these youngsters.
Cinematography in the film is very distinctive. Different looks are used to differentiate Martha’s two separate worlds. At times they meld together, suggestive of her state of mind. The song repeated in the film suitably sets the tone for the film.
John Hawkes is excellent as Patrick. He has an unsettling quality which is integral to the character. Elizabeth Olsen also delivers a solid performance as Martha; she is very believable as the young woman.
Martha Marcy May Marlene is a thought-provoking drama. The fine performances render it one to watch.
Martha Marcy May Marlene is being screened at the BFI London Film Festival in October 2011.