Martha Marcy May Marlene Review
2011, 120 minutes
Rated R for disturbing violent and sexual content, nudity, and language
Martha Marcy May Marlene marks the start of two careers of the most exciting talents to come along in a while, Sean Durkin and Elizabeth Olsen. The film follows Martha (Olsen) as she escapes from a cult and goes to live with her sister. During this stay, Martha becomes increasingly paranoid and has frequent flashbacks to her time with the cult, led by Patrick (Oscar nominee John Hawkes of Winter's Bone). Every aspect of this film is absolutely brilliant, the most brilliant being the acting. Olsen (younger sister of Mary-Kate and Ashley) is electrifying in the lead role. I hung on her every word, expression, and move. Most good actresses can play a paranoid person, but it takes a really good one to hold their audience on every word and it takes an even better one to do it without much dialogue. In Martha Marcy, Olsen is given long shots to stare at the camera and bare her character's soul to the viewer. In one of the opening scenes when Martha calls her sister to tell her that she needs her to pick her up, Martha is so scared that the cult will come after her that she can barely speak. The look of pure dread and terror on Olsen's face speaks more volumes than any dialogue could ever portray.
Hawkes is once again phenomenal as the manipulative leader of the cult that Martha belongs to. His character, Patrick, is quiet, smooth, calculating, and vicious. In a certain climactic scene, these all come together in one frightening and unnerving moment. If I were to spoil this one, it would be tragic. Hawkes beautifully fleshes out his character and has a commanding screen presence. Though his character in Winter's Bone is similar in many ways to Patrick, the two are just different enough to make each fascinating.
Jody Lee Lipes' cinematography of this film is the perfect match to Olsen and Hawkes as it is foggy, soft, and quiet. It does not have the hyper-realistic and sharp quality of that of The Social Network or The Artist. The dream-like air of calmness is deceiving because under that dreaminess is violence and paranoia. The tranquility of the film's look makes the scenes of violence that much more shocking. Also, the takes are long and focus on the actor's faces emphasizing their emotions and slowing the pace to allow the audience to savor the film.
Sean Durkin, making his feature film directorial debut with this film is an exciting talent to watch for as he also wrote the film. The dialogue and situations rarely fell less than real and feel like the work of a master.
Overall, Martha Marcy May Marlene is a piece of masterful filmmaking from true artists to watch out for, especially Olsen. Please go see this film, no matter what. If you do not see it now, you will be missing a truly great film that will surely be recognized come Oscar time.