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Jan 5, 2012

Review: Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011)

                  Elizabeth Olsen, John Hawkes, Sarah Paulson, Hugh Dancy, Brady Corbet, Christopher Abbott, Michael Chmiel, Maria Dizzia, Julia Garner and Louisa Krause.

Directed By:
                        Sean Durkin.

                Right now, i can't think of any other US Director's Debut that strike me as much as this one did, there were so many British directors debuts in 2011 that were the best ones. From Attack The Block to Submarine, from The Guard to Tyrannosaur and probably many others. I don't quite remember any big debut from US but the one name that would instantly come into my mind when people will talk about is Sean Durkin. A smashing and strong debut, i am really looking forward to his future projects. This movie was one of my most anticipated movies of the year and i loved watching it a month ago. It really had the Winter's Bone vibe all over which was another movie i really liked. Another big factor for this much of anticipation for me was Elizabeth Olsen, who really was someone everybody was talking about. People were calling it a career making performance and something that would blow your mind. I was curious to see this Olsen sister perform on screen whom i never heard of before until now.

                So the name of the movie is Martha Marcy May Marlene, these are three names for one character, the one portrayed by Elizabeth Olsen. This is a psychological thriller drama concerning return of Martha to her sister's house after her experience at an abusive cult in the mountains. This movie does show what happened to her there in series of flashbacks but is mainly concerned about her experience after she returns, Martha is unable to separate her past experience and her present following series of delusion and paranoia. Yes this movie is about a cult, a group lead by Patrick (John Hawkes), a commune where many children and Patrick's many wives lives under a one roof, they share their belongings and follows a particular schedule of daily routine life as prescribed by their leader. Everything does sound scary and very weird and it is, i really like the detailing and the way Sean tells us about the cult group slowly and gradually. As the movie passes, not only we get deeper and more clearer look at the group itself and what happened to Martha there but her return to the normal life and the re-adjustments. Martha still gets shaken by the fact that she might be still living there or that the group leader still may have there eyes on her following her to the house. As the movie starts, we see her packing her stuff and slowly making her way out of that commune house into the woods and running. A group member sees her doing that and runs after her followed by everyone else too but Martha manages to run away making her way to a road. She sees phone booth, calls her sister Lucy and tells her to pick her up. Lucy thinks she and her boyfriend had some issues and Martha makes up a story rather than telling her about the cult group she was in. From there on we see her trying to battle her paranoia and the real world in a way which is so believable. Right from her eating habits to her bathing one, she still seems to follow the rules as done in the group.

                Lucy played by Sarah Paulson has a husband too, Ted played by Hugh Dancy who from the very start seems doubtful and uncomfortable about the sudden out of nowhere appearance of Martha after so long when she didn't even bothered to call them. During the boat scenes i sense a weird kind of developing romance between their character which after that is not sensed at all but it was interesting. Their is some underlying deep sensuality involved with Martha's character and the movie thanks to her sometimes felt sexy in a way which is weird for me but not a bad thing. Martha's actions soon starts troubling the newly wedded couple to a point where things get out of the hands, now enough about the story. Yes this movie is powerful and yes i couldn't even stop thinking about it, even now. Movie is quite unsettling and uncomfortable for some viewers, you wont see blood or violence or anything like that but still the whole experience is just painful to watch. The way her past is shown is painful and very scary to watch like you try to think if something like that happened to you what would you have done?

                  Hats off to one of the best performance of the year by Elizabeth Olsen, quite a brave and bold attempt at a movie like this which really paid off. Can't believe she got such an incredible movie to debut from, this was a one in a million precious opportunity and she is a one lucky girl. Her performance is outstanding, she seems to have given herself for the part completely involved and absorbed in her character. The shifts we see from Martha to Marcy May and from Marcy May to Martha is brilliant, she does it very easily and doesn't requires much efforts. Elizabeth is comfortable in the role and performs brilliantly. She grabs your attention from the very start till the very end, very few newcomers does that when you really feel connected with them. Supporting performances are good too, John Hawkes as Patrick is one man that truly creeps the hell out of you without any scary faces or stares, without any scary monster make up or weird way to talk or act but he is severely calm, quite and peaceful. One moment you will see him making love to Marcy May (i mean rape) and the next thing you see is grabbing a guitar and singing a song that he made just for Marcy May while looking at her in a way that i can't even put in words. He is brilliant at what he does and so effortlessly. The least he does, the more you get from him. A brilliant supporting performance nevertheless. I thought Sarah Paulson acted very well too, she might feels too bossy and arrogant over her sister trying to show off her wealthy life style and sophistication over Martha but that is really not the case at all, she loves her sister and wants to get involved with her trying to get out all the depression she is suffering and mainly to take care of her. One of the best sister to sister relationship i have ever seen, i thought she performed really well too.

               I love movies that really concentrates on the aspects of storytelling and finds a unique way to show it on screen with good developments. Sean Durkin really had a strong control over that aspect and it shows so well. You don't feel lost, confused or suffering at all when the movie shifts back and forth. Perfectly written movie with a strong screenplay and excellent direction and outstanding editing work done. The more i think of it the more i want to give five stars to it but something that i don't know is holding me back. I thought cinematography was amazing and quite excellent. The way we see the past of Martha is represented through the confused mind of Martha herself which feels so effective. Olsen's compelling and strong performance really is the best thing about the movie followed by the screenplay. This movie truly has a great ending that many people seems to under- appreciate as they don't see something happening before the movie ends. I don't think that a filmmaker always needs to wrap up a movie by showing us everything, i think sometimes its really nice to leave something for the audience to do. This movie ends in a very tensed way you see Martha in car with her sister and brother in law while being chased by the cult group members, now that just can be an illusion but that also can be a reality. One of the most disturbing, brilliant and genius endings i have seen, its not interrupted ending as you first of all don't even know that what you see is really happening or is it just Martha's troubled mind.

               This movie works so great as a thriller or a psychological thriller, one of the most effective ones in the recent history. The slow building premise doesn't bothers me but really adds ten times more fun than something i would get from watching a fast paced action thriller. This movie may also have vibes of Memento where we follow to narrations at the same time. I think this small indie thriller truly is a marvel, classy work and something everyone should see and appreciate. One of the best works of the year, Sean Durkin did a masterful work followed by Elizabeth Olsen's mind blowing performance. Hats off to both of them.

Grade: A-