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Film Review: Martha Marcy May Marlene

2nd March 2012

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A horror movie, a thriller or a psychological drama? A thought provoking, disturbing masterpiece of a film, Martha Marcy May Marlene defies the restrictions of genre to become a film that should not be viewed lightly in any sense of the word.

Elizabeth Olsen - Debut star of Martha Marcy May MarleneMartha is a young woman who has recently escaped to her sister’s house after fleeing the confines of a manipulative cult. What this cult believe and what they have done to Martha is at first unknown to those around her, but she has emerged from the ordeal a passive, untalkative person, unwilling to discuss what she has experienced. At times distant and uncooperative, she seems to have developed a very distorted concept of privacy and social interaction, one that begins to affect both her sister and herself as she attempts to suppress what has happened in her past.

Aside from the mysterious plot, the most interesting aspect of the film is its non-chronological structure. Whilst watching the dark story of Martha's life unfold, you are asked not only to absorb the information on screen, but also to piece it together into an order that makes sense. Even more confusing are the moments when the story falters and we begin to question Martha’s sanity. Her mental instability forces us to ask when a scene has happened and sometimes, more unsettlingly, did it happen at all? 

The film stars Elizabeth Olsen, younger sister to twins Mary-Kate and Ashley, gives a brilliant debut performance as Martha. At once distractingly beautiful and deeply unnerving, her performance draws you so deeply into her character that you begin to share her emotions. Whether she is laughing at an inappropriate moment, or scared at the prospect of facing her own identity, Olsen manages to trap the audience in the twisted mind of a disturbed young woman.

With Martha Marcy May Marlene, first time director Sean Durkin has managed to create something that is both implicitly grim and darkly hypnotic. It is obvious from the start that something horrible has happened to Martha and this feeling only grows stronger as the film progresses, until it eventually becomes something so disconcerting that I was left feeling on edge long after the film had finished.

There is no question that the less you know about this film before seeing it, the more of an impact it will have.



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