Martha Marcy May Marlene, is psychological drama that tells the story of a girl that flees a cult and tries to re-connect with her family and adjust back to normal life. Seems like it's been a theme with me lately, but this is another indie character-drama where there's not much to the story or even all that much that happens as far as plot. This isn't always a bad thing, but it just seems like I'm on a recent streak of indie movies like this.
Anyway, the movie opens with Martha (Elizabeth Olsen) leaving the cult and hooking back up with her older sister (Sarah Paulson) and brother-in-law (Hugh Dancy). More is revealed as the story goes on that shows you her reasons for leaving the cult and subsequent damage.
The cult angle might turn some of you off, but they never really go into details about the cult itself. I don't recall religion ever being brought up at any point. I kind of wondered if this was more of a commune. I'm fuzzy on the definition of these types of things. I don't think about them all that much.
Again, I really don't need to tell you much more about the story. Once you get past the basic premise, you're just watching how Martha adjusts back to life and reacts to things. There are some real 'oh shit' moments as the movie goes on. You might find yourself squirming or uncomfortable while watching it, but that's the general feeling I got.
A movie like this only works if the performances are great and Martha Marcy May Marlene delivers there. Elizabeth Olsen has an impressive, debut performance. She really gets your attention here and shows that she has the acting chops to break out from the shadow of her older sisters. I think she has a long career ahead of her. It's funny, because while you can definitely seem the family resemblance to the Olsen Twins, as the movie went on I actually thought she looked more like a younger version of Vera Farmiga.
John Hawkes is great as he always is. He plays the leader of the cult and walks the line between being fatherly and creepy. He seems to be tailor-made for roles like this. I also liked Sarah Paulson as Martha's older sister, but until the credits rolled I thought she was Monica Potter.
Martha Marcy May Marlene is a movie featuring a lot of firsts. You have Olsen's performance, but you also have first time writer/director Sean Durkin. I think he did a good job and once again, here's another guy I'm looking forward to seeing what he'll do next.
It's not a perfect film though. While not a long movie, it's a little slowly paced. It's also has an ambiguous ending that may irritate some viewers. I sometimes like endings where things are kind of left up in the air, but this is also the kind of thing that makes some people hate independent films. Again, it's a psychological drama that's character-driven, rather than plot-driven. If you understand that going in, then it's a little easier to watch and accept these issues.
I think Martha Marcy May Marlene is a good film, but it's also a tough movie to recommend for the reasons given above. It's not something I would tell anyone to rush out and see in your local art house theater, but if this sounds like your type of movie, then I don't think you'll be disappointed. I think it's worth watching, but I think it's the type of thing you should rent.