'Martha Marcy May Marlene'
5 out of 5 Pitchforks
Released: Oct. 21
Within the first 15 minutes of “Martha Marcy May Marlene,” you assume that the movie is completely absent of dialogue. The gnawing sounds of dishes, the somber tone brought on by simple, yet potent, sounds are the volume of screams. Immediately, you are thrown into the subtly terrifying world of a cult.
Elizabeth Olsen plays Martha, a 20-something woman who has recently fled from a cult in the Catskill Mountains. Martha finds refuge in her sister Lucy’s (Sarah Paulson) summer home. The film continues to document the first two weeks of the manipulated world that Martha spent two years falling into.
The film is set in two arenas: Lucy and her husband Ted’s (Hugh Dancy) summer home and Martha’s memory of the cult life in the rolling hills of northern New York. These two environments, while complete opposites, seamlessly blend. One moment, Martha jumps from her brother-in-law’s boat and then is falling down a waterfall with her New York family. Your eyes strain to see the silhouettes of legs treading in the fresh water, and then suddenly you’re searching with her through a dark hallway. These transitions are nothing short of flawless.
No matter what haven you’re in, whether it is the manipulated commune or the bright, chirping beach home, all you feel is tension. Martha’s pain to escape her childish naïvete hurts the audience; her fear as she wakes up only be taken advantage of the cult’s kingpin Patrick (John Hawkes) sends goosebumps to each viewer. The entire film is based around a sense of anticipation without ever giving the audience a thrilling reveal or answers that they pine for. You just wait in fear of potential.
Writer and director Sean Durkin creates a successful scene of terror. With help from steadfast research and a friend and former cult member, Durkin unlocks the truth that most Americans have no clue about. As the film continues to roll, you have to beg yourself that this is all fabricated. While the film is obviously fiction, the tactics and heinous acts committed all happen. “Martha Marcy May Marlene” reflects a real culture.
However, if you hope to fully understand, you’re going to need to research on your own. This film has a shockingly clever way of answering nothing. “Those questions you’re having are the same questions she’s having herself,” Durkin said, who found joy in hearing how each audience member read small details differently. While you think that you understand an occurrence, one other tidbit will be so vague that the ambiguity itself will have you questioning the rest of the movie.
Once you get past the fact that you feel like you’re staring at an Olsen twin, you see that this movie deserves an Oscar. With sharp angles, noises, dialogue and acting, Durkin has created a perfect film. Olsen is creating a critically-acclaimed name for herself, and Hawkes (also in Winter’s Bone) is making his way as the creepy antagonist of the indie film world.
“Martha Marcy May Marlene” wraps you into her identity from the title to the frustrating credit roll, and frankly, “you don’t know anything about it.”
Reach the reporter at firstname.lastname@example.org