Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011) Movie Review

Winner of numerous independent film awards, Martha Marcy May Marlene takes you on a psychological horror show. This film takes you through the internal and external turmoil of a young woman that has just escaped from a cult on a farm, however, during the film the word cult is not batted around in any form. The plot splits into two distinct paths: the past and the present. The past takes you through Martha’s indoctrination into this new family and society. While the present shows the conflict that the beliefs have on the rest of the world outside this small society. The direction was amazing, shocking moments are not given significance over any other events throughout the film.   Those moments are instead subjective, judged only by the beliefs that are important to the beholder.

The three names of the films title are skillfully explained, without being too direct. The film opens in silence, only the sounds of work on a farm can be heard. It seems like a normal day on this farm. The first indication that it is not like any other farm begins with the scene of the men eating dinner while all the women wait, then once the men are finished the women can eat. The next morning a young girl sneaks out of the house and runs into the woods, followed by people screaming “Marcy May”. In the next scene we hear the name Martha (Elizabeth Olsen) during a phone call; the girl is visibly scared and confused.  She is picked up by Martha’s sister, Lucy (Sarah Paulson), and taken to a summer house 3 hours away from the farm. With no mention of the family she escaped from and the abusive leader Patrick (John Hawkes), Martha starts going through the memories of entering the family. We start getting glimpses of just what this girl went through; consumed by sick ideas and the systematic breakdown of barriers to being rebuilt with new values. Without the ability to put into perspective all that has been done to her, the values that were pushed into her mind, and trying to assimilate to the world outside the family starts to unravel Martha.

The film really does an amazing job, you can feel the claustrophobic situation build within Martha’s world. I was literally on the edge of my futon, my hand often covered my mouth in that involuntary motor response to shocking visuals. There are some shocking scenes, but the director keeps the details to a minimum. I can see how this film won so many independent film awards, the direction, and acting are all masterful. The story really gets you interested and almost scared to know what will happen next.  As an enthusiast of films about cults for the vicarious thrill of a glimpses into sub cultures that are beyond the realm of absurd, this movie kept me very interested.

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