Martha Marcy May Marlene Review

In terms of film debuts it doesn't get any better than what Sean Durkin and Elisabeth Olsen do in Martha Marcy May Marlene.  The film follows Martha (Elizabeth Olsen) as she tries to deal with the paranoia resulting from her thinking that the cult she escaped from will try to hunt her down.  This paranoia is so perfectly portrayed due to a haunting atmosphere created by director and writer Sean Durkin and a no holds barred performance by Olsen.  The two seem like veterans of their craft despite having no feature film experience.

Revelatory is probably the best word to describe Sean Durkin's work on the film.  The film opens up with a sequence of the women in a cult waiting for their turn to eat as the men finish their meal.  It's done subtly but leaves such a powerful message, and there are numerous sequences like this throughout the film.  Another effective thing Durkin does during this sequence (and throughout the film) is use silence to create a spooky atmosphere.  The sound mix on this film is perfection and brings the viewer closer to the amount of fear Martha is fearing.  Durkin's direction is just so meticulous.  He shows every one of Martha's struggles (internal and external) no matter how small.  Just look at the many times, that when not in the center of the camera, Martha will do subtle glances over her shoulder as if she thinks she's being watched.  All of this is of course shown and not told which is something a rookie director and writer will normally fail at doing.

Of course Durkin's direction couldn't be complete without his well written script.  The best thing it does is the way it treats the jumps in time.  It's just difficult enough to follow that you can never take your eye off the film but it's never so difficult that you have no idea what is going on.  He also does a great job of juxtaposing between the two main timelines (such as subtle scenes of characters drinking and swimming).

Now onto Olsen who is fearless in the lead role as she isn't afraid to do anything in front of the camera. She also effectively shows vulnerability and confusion in a realistic manner (just watch one of the opening scenes involving a phone call to her sister for proof).  The most visible evidence of this great performance though is the stark contrast between the pre-cult and post-cult versions of Olsen's character.  They are two completely different characters and Olsen portrays them both in an exceptional manner.  The real highlight of the cast though might be John Hawkes.  I think the best thing I can say about him is that he is the one guy I would never want to meet in a dark alley.  He is brilliant at portraying scary figures.  As the cult leader in this film, he is captivating and it's easy to see why he has such a following (especially during his portrayal of "Marcy's Song").  All you do is wait for this guy to come back on screen as he is always on your mind.

Martha Marcy May Marlene is a disturbing yet completely captivating story of the downside of fanaticism.



  1. I'm so glad that you liked this film, as it's one of my favorites. The tone is set just perfectly and I really hope that Olsen gets an Oscar nomination from this, although she seems to be losing some steam to Felicity Jones with the early precursors.

  2. Thanks, I unfortunately doubt this film gets any love from the Oscars. Too indie and too uncomfortable of a film.


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