Martha Marcy May Marlene is not a good time. In fact, if you allow it to...it will find its way under your skin and it will haunt you for days. It is that rare film experience that rewards its viewer several times...even after repeat visits. Here...let us exam this tense cinematic marvel...shall we?
So, I'm trying this new thing where I'm doing my hardest to put aside my usual pile of films that I rewatch over and over in favor of watching some of the films that I've been meaning to see for awhile now. I watched Martha Marcy May Marlene as the first film in my little exercise. I've been aspiring to watch that one for awhile now (I've had the Blu-ray since February). I'm an idiot. This is one that I should've watched the moment I got my hands on it! Since February, I have watched They Live like 6 times and, yet...never even so much as an attempt to see Martha Marcy May Marlene. We're gonna just abbreviate that long title to MMMM from now on....'k?
Writer/director Sean Durkin has never made a feature before this one. However, you would never be able to suspect that fact from watching MMMM. Durkin has crafted a tightly wound cinematic experience that grips you all the way until the very last frame. He not only knows how to tell a story through a series of images separated by chronological sequences laid out effortlessly, but he also manages to immerse the audience in the main character's world. With the help of cinematographer Jody Lee Lipes, he creates a multi-layered thriller that keeps you guessing what is real...and what is dreamed.
We are introduced to young Martha, embodied by the severely talented Elizabeth Olsen in a role that, unfortunately, was largely overlooked by the film Academy. There's a certain unexplainable, almost supernatural, ability that an actor possesses. It lures you into his or her performance and never lets you go...not even for a moment. Not until the credits role. Not everyone has that certain unexplainable aura. You are either born with it...or not. It can't be learned...and it cannot be taught. Elizabeth Olsen has it.
Anyway, we are introduced to young Martha during a random day where she's performing her normal chores which include land-scaping, housework, and cooking a dinner that she is not allowed to eat...all for an apparent cult that she is involved with somewhere in upstate New York. It is on this random day that she decides to make her escape back to a "normal" society into the nurturing confines of her sister's summer home. However, before she makes her liberation, she is confronted by one of the male members of the cult. It is a scene that pretty much sets the tone for the entire film. Full of an undefinable menace closing in...but, never attempting to fully engage you. The young man (Brady Corbet) lets Martha go in such a way that leaves the viewer (and Martha) never once letting any kind of guard down.
Martha finds her way to her sister's house in deep Connecticut where she attempts to return to a "normal" way of life. It is here where we cut back and forth chronicling her events with the cult and her new life with her sister and sister's husband and it isn't long until the lines between what's uncomfortable reality and what is paranoid fantasy take shape. Sarah Paulson plays Martha's sister Lucy and, though she attempts to keep up with Olsen's talents, she never really makes the role her own. Hugh Dancy plays Lucy's pretentious husband...who actually does a nice job of taking some of the tension away as an irritated unsympathetic jerk-off.
The film's central antagonist comes in the form of the cult's leader Patrick...played by the unforgettable character actor John Hawkes. If you watch alot of films, you'll know that John Hawkes is always around. You never really see him much...but, when you do...he plants himself inside your psyche. He was the liquor store clerk in the beginning of From Dusk Till Dawn. He was the mousy Sol Star in the amazing Deadwood series. He was the the CDC janitor in Contagion. He maintains that exact feeling here in MMMM. The feeling of having his grip on you...despite hardly ever seeing him. Patrick is always in the shadows...behind the scenes puppeteering his group like any great cult mastermind. Hawkes finally shines within the dark recesses of this film as he flawlessly intimidates with his intimate grasp of Martha. You always feel like he's just around the next corner...waiting.
My only real complaint of MMMM pretty much stems from my own blockheaded yearning for the blatantly horrific and brazanly gory. Aside from a stabbing and an off-screen shooting that might make PETA cringe, there's no real display of good old-fashioned blood and guts. The scares are pretty much felt and imagined rather than embodied in some kind of creepy physical monster. The real monster in the film is Hawkes' subliminal performance. So, for the gorehounds in the audience that might not be into a cerebral display of amazing filmmaking and genius acting...you may wanna just sit this one out.
I could probably go on for days about this film. Hell...I pretty much wrote a goddamn mini-thesis on just the feeling this film emits. I only wish that I discovered it much sooner...rather than as the result of a self-imposed exercise. Martha Marcy May Marlene will creep inside of you and entrance you with its delicate song...then it will proceed to deflower you and kill your kittens. Oh..and there's also some Olsen boobies ;)
Thanks for reading,