Question: Would you rather be an award-winning, respected member of a field of interest but make very little money doing it or be considered a joke and an annoyance in that field but make billions doing it? That's the personal life of the star of this film, Elizabeth Olsen. You don't know her and nor should you; this is her first real movie of note. But you know her sisters...they're Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, inexplicably super wealthy actresses from Full House. Luckily for us, Elizabeth Olsen chose to go for integrity.
The premise of Marth Marcy May Marlene is about a girl who turns to her sister in a time when she's trying to flee from a cult. I understand that this is the worst movie title ever made and it gets worse after a viewing since it makes no sense, but that's the only thing awful about it. This psychological thriller is patient and deliberate and makes you earn its entertainment. I appreciate films like that. It's very much in the style of some of the Coen Brother thrillers that are so amazing, such as No Country for Old Men.
I'm not sure how writer/director Sean Durkin pulled this off. This is his first attempt at writing AND directing and it's spectacular for a first attempt! Even though he gets Oscar-nominated pedigree from John Hawkes (Winter's Bone, The Perfect Storm) as another Oscar-worthy performance as the chillingly sweet cult leader, Patrick; Durkin still pulls this off with very little Hollywood spices thrown in. There's no big budget or famous faces and that adds to the authenticiy of the movie.
One thing that's so enjoyable about Martha Marcy May Marlene is the seemless transition it has while going from flashbacks to the present (or possibly even dreams) in the story telling and direction. The scenes flow like a Monty Python or Mr. Show episode except there is not a lot funny about this tale...sans some post-cult adjustment to regular life for Olsen. It's the way the film is told that adds to the suspense of the whole story. Is someone coming after Martha? Is she really remembering everything properly? What scared her so much to have her make a run for it? All these questions are answered but not in an overt way at all. Again...you have to work for it.
It's not a film for everyone. Some won't have the patience for the sluggish pace that still doesn't bore. Some won't have an easy time with some of the more graphic scenes although it's tame compared to what they could show. Some won't like it just because the title sucks so much and that I understand. But if you enjoy Hitchcockian/Coen Brothers type thrillers that prey on your paranoia and are visually stunning with great characters...than Martha Marcy May Marlene has your name written all over it. (It actually might have your actual name with a stupid title that long.) Martha Marcy May Marlene (Rated R)
Gavin Grade: A-