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Martha has run away from an abusive hippie-like cult where she was living as Marcy May for two years. She turns to her sister and brother-in-law who take her in and want to help her. The problem is Martha is having a hard time separating dreams from reality and when haunting memories of her past keep resurfacing, she may need more help than anyone is able to give her. Written by
Martha Marcy May Marlene is literally one of the most difficult movie titles to remember in recent memory; at least until after you see the film. Shortened to MMMM in movie conversations, when you tell people that title their reply is usually along the lines of, "That sounds REALLY stupid." But Martha Marcy May Marlene is pretty much the furthest thing from stupid a film could possibly be. But then if you were try to convince somebody that a movie starring a younger sister of the Olsen twins is not only good but filled with some pretty extraordinary acting, you'd probably be laughed at. If you enjoy independent film, watch the trailer for Martha Marcy May Marlene and go into the full-length film with an open mind. It's practically guaranteed you'll be surprised with what you discover.
Martha (Elizabeth Olsen) has just returned home to her family; Lucy (Sarah Paulson) and her husband Ted (Hugh Dancy). Martha disappeared two years ago without a trace. She never called anyone or let anyone know where she was going; she was just gone. Now that Martha has returned, she doesn't seem right. She acts strangely and can't tell the difference between the past, the present, and events that she dreamed about. But she doesn't want to talk about it. She did however live with a man named Patrick (John Hawkes) on a farm with a group of other women who basically worshipped the ground Patrick walked on. But whatever happened there has tainted Martha. The events that transpired there still haunt her to this day and Martha soon comes to realize that the life she had for two years isn't so easy to run away from.
Martha Marcy May Marlene reels you in right from the start. You see Martha take off into the woods and the shaky point of view that's used along with the positioning of the camera gives you the sense that you're chasing after her, which is basically what you're doing the entire film. There's this constant sense of uneasiness dripping over each frame of the film even before anything is actually revealed. The absence of a score does wonders, but every once in awhile a slow rising high pitched tone can be heard to make things more tense and it works in spades.
The film itself is rather upsetting and almost off-putting in a way. It's incredibly difficult to watch at times, but hard to pull yourself away from at the same time. Elizabeth Olsen is an interesting actress to watch. She spends the majority of the film keeping to herself and not wanting to talk about the hell she's been through the past two years, but her unusual behavior along with how insanity begins to slip through the cracks of the front she puts on in front of her family is the beauty of not only the character but her performance as well. John Hawkes has always been a compelling actor anyway, but he's in top form here. Patrick is a very driven individual. Of course, the way he lives and his ideals are completely off the wall but it's the way he's so calm about it and so confident that makes it believable. Then there's his dark side that's just downright scary. The whole scenario brings to mind a famous serial killer; a certain family from the 1960s.
However like most movies the less you know about Martha Marcy May Marlene going in the better. One of the film's charms is how it transitions between the past and the present. It illustrates to perfection the thought process and current mindset of the Martha character. Marcy's Song, which is performed by John Hawkes, is a beautiful song but its context is genuinely creepy. Most of the conversations between Martha and her sister Lucy are some of the best scenes in the film. Their conversation by the lake while Ted is making dinner is one that stands out. You find yourself just enthralled with the film and just entranced with everything going on, but the ending is kind of a letdown. It's very open-ended and was obviously done to keep you talking (which it has done very successfully), but it didn't feel completely satisfying to me. It doesn't necessarily hurt the film overall, but is just a small nitpick on my end.
Martha Marcy May Marlene is driven by an exceptional cast and an engaging story while being wrapped up in an incredibly unnerving presentation. There doesn't really seem to be a weak actor in the cast as Elizabeth Olsen shows she's a very talented actress and John Hawkes continues to show how talented he really is. Martha Marcy May Marlene keeps you guessing, keeps you on the edge of your seat, and is just brilliant storytelling all around.
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