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Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011)

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Haunted by painful memories and increasing paranoia, a damaged woman struggles to re-assimilate with her family after fleeing an abusive cult.


Sean Durkin


Sean Durkin
2,926 ( 129)

Elizabeth Olsen Through the Years

Take a look back at Elizabeth Olsen's movie and TV career in photos.

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22 wins & 70 nominations. See more awards »





Cast overview, first billed only:
Elizabeth Olsen ... Martha
Christopher Abbott ... Max
Brady Corbet ... Watts
Hugh Dancy ... Ted
Maria Dizzia ... Katie
Julia Garner ... Sarah
John Hawkes ... Patrick
Louisa Krause ... Zoe
Sarah Paulson ... Lucy
Adam David Thompson ... Bartender (as Adam Thompson)
Allen McCullough ... Man in Home #2
Lauren Molina Lauren Molina ... Cult Member
Louisa Braden Johnson Louisa Braden Johnson ... Cult Member
Tobias Segal ... Cult Member
Gregg Burton Gregg Burton ... Man in Home #1


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 napierslogs

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated R for disturbing violent and sexual content, nudity and language | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »


Official Sites:

Official site | Official site [Spain] | See more »





Release Date:

21 December 2011 (Sweden) See more »

Also Known As:

La fuga di Martha See more »

Filming Locations:

Livingston Manor, New York, USA See more »


Box Office

Opening Weekend USA:

$137,651, 23 October 2011, Limited Release

Gross USA:

$2,981,638, 5 February 2012
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Company Credits

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

Dolby Digital | SDDS | Datasat



Aspect Ratio:

2.35 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


Shot over 20 days. See more »


During Martha's breakdown in the party scene, the bow on her white dress is hanging loose when she is being corralled into the bedroom by Lucy and Ted. In the next shot, the bow is done up again. See more »


[first lines]
Watts: [as Martha runs away] Marcy! Marcy May! Where ya goin'?
See more »


Referenced in The Cinema Snob: Guyana: Cult of the Damned (2012) See more »


Weekend Homes
Written by Christopher Abbott
Performed by Christopher Abbott
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Frequently Asked Questions

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User Reviews

Suspense, fear, & psychological manipulation there are aplenty - but that is all there is
3 November 2011 | by chaz-28See all my reviews

Martha Marcy May Marlene continuously cuts back and forth between past and present. However, the audience could have used a lot more past and a bit more present to help understand more about Martha (Elizabeth Olsen). The past shows Martha's introduction to a reclusive cult deep in the Catskill Mountains in upstate New York. The present reveals it is two years later, Martha has decided to escape the cult, and shacks up with her sister and brother-in-law in an upscale Connecticut lakeside community.

First time feature writer/director Sean Durkin is a bit manipulative with his script and shot choices. Frequently, you have to wait a moment or two to figure out if this new scene is in the past or present; it shows early on he is going to play with your mind to make you guess what it is until a character walks on screen. This mirrors what is supposedly going on in Martha's head; she is having some major psychological trouble differentiating between her present surroundings and her experiences from the past two years.

It is up to the audience to interpret how Martha wound up in the company of the cult; the film does not show you that. Also, Martha must be extremely naïve, gullible, or downright accepting of cultish behavior because her assimilation is quite easy. Sharing beds, clothes, household chores, and each other's bodies comes quite naturally to her. Even after a drugging and rape, Martha just shrugs it off as her introduction to the 'family'. Through conversations with her sister in the present, you learn mom died young and dad is never mentioned but her early childhood experiences do not sound very much like they were setting young Martha up to be swallowed up by rapist farmers.

Back to the manipulation. Both segments, past and present, start very much in serene settings. The commune Martha joins is very accepting, calm, and the people provide a lot of compliments about her strong character and leadership skills. The present segment is on a beautiful lake in a gigantic house with supportive relatives. Then each respective scene adds an unsettling layer until by the end, these troubling and disturbing layers feel crushing. Events at the commune upset Martha to the point of breaking down and events in the present lake house are all of Martha's doing because she has brought some extreme paranoia and cascading delusions with her after her escape.

I do not recommend this film. The director made some creative editing choices and is very effective at building suspense, but that is all it is. The ability to muster unrelenting suspense and dread is not the only element to make an effective movie. I became very tired of watching Martha heap abuse and vitriol at her relatives who put up her ridiculous behavior much longer than most people would. I also grew impatient watching Martha get sucked into a cult through outrageously obvious maneuvers.

Why is the film world falling in love with Martha? Almost every critic lauds its suspense and acting, Durkin won Best Director at Sundance, and it was included in the Cannes Un Certain Regard section. For Elizabeth Olsen, it was a very impressive first role, but I disagree that she has done anything amazing here. She spends the majority of the movie just looking sheepish around John Hawkes and annoyed at her relatives.

Break out of the spell Martha Marcy May Marlene is trying to ensnare you in. Perhaps it is a cult itself and you do not realize how deep you are being manipulated by it until the preposterous and absurd ending.

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