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Martha Marcy May Marlene

Martha Marcy May Marlene Directed by: Sean Durkin Cast: Elizabeth Olsen, Sarah Paulson, John Hawkes, Hugh Dancy Running Time: 2 hrs Rating: R Release Date: November 4, 2011 (Portland)

PLOT: Martha (Olsen) leaves a cult and its leader (Hawkes) and stays with her sister (Paulson) and her husband (Dancy). She's haunted by painful memories and is having difficulty readjusting.

WHO'S IT FOR? This is an uncomfortable, powerful drama with actors doing great work. There are definitely moments of abuse toward women.

EXPECTATIONS: I thought it might have indie-darling potential. Especially since no one was talking about Olsen's twin sisters, but her performance instead.


ACTORS: Elizabeth Olsen as Martha: Visually, she is a perfect combination between her older twin sisters and Scarlett Johansson. In the beginning, we know Martha has to get away, but don't know why. After all, the only issue with the commune is the men eat first. Slowly we realize what she was/is up against. Then it's a matter of Martha being able to adjust to normal like. Little things like wearing a swimsuit has simply been lost on her. Olsen finds that great balance of being weak and trying to fight back. Score: 10

John Hawkes as Patrick: Sure, his name says Patrick, but Hawkes is easily the "White Trash Leader" and should be that role in all movies going forward. This is most definitely a compliment. He's better than last year's Winter's Bone. The eye contact and death stare alone makes him an easy choice for a Best Supporting Actor nomination. Patrick is evil, and this is real evil, the kind that can definitely exist in the world. That makes it all the more frightening. Score: 10

Sarah Paulson as Lucy: I have a soft spot for Paulson because of my brief love affair with "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip." My first thought when I saw her was, "Oh good! She's getting work." That happens sometimes with actors. While she's a step down from Olsen and Hawkes, she's absolutely not a weak link in the film. Lucy is happy to have her sister back. She keeps assuming Martha just needs a little more sleep to shake things off. So, she doesn't push to figure out what happened. Instead Lucy wants to dress her little sister up, not realizes she could be creating more trauma. Score: 7

Hugh Dancy as Ted: Ted is Lucy's husband, who is a little stressed from work and definitely sees the arrival of Martha as even more stress. There is one moment involving Ted where I breathed a sigh of relief. In a big studio film, you know exactly what Ted would do if left alone with Martha. Ted is logical, helpful and annoyed. Exactly what he should be. Score: 8

TALKING: With Martha, Lucy and Ted everything feels normal, just that they aren't pushing far enough for information. When Patrick speaks, you better listen, or else. I love that the "or else" is always assumed on the commune. Did you notice everyone apologizes and walks on egg shells around him, even if they are just entering his office? There are a few chilling lines, none more so than, "He only has boys." Score: 8

SIGHTS: The flashbacks meld perfectly with Martha's current life reminding her about something from her past. Even the rituals of making Martha up with a little makeup take on a new feel when you think about her different perspectives. The houses looks great with the commune looking plain and Ted and Lucy's house looking lavish. Score: 8

SOUNDS: Patrick plays us a little song dedicated to Martha. There are great moments of silence, and when the musical score does come up it is very effective with gelling with the film. Score: 8


BEST SCENE: It's terribly uncomfortable when Patrick wants Martha to take a gun and finish off a kitten.

ENDING: Sigh. It's an indie ending, leaving you with the possibility of a couple of different outcomes.

QUESTIONS: Why not follow-through with an ending? Is this really what the Catskills are like? If so, I don't want to visit.

REWATCHABILITY: Yes, I believe the intensity and actual fear I had going will remain the same.


This is what goes on in the backyard. No, not your backyard. It's that metaphorical scary, real, neighbor's backyard that you know is out there in the world, but you don't ever have to see it.

That's the kind of vibe Martha Marcy May Marlene creates. This movie will sit with you uncomfortably for a while. I never think about owning a gun. Never. This movie had me doing that. There is power in the subject, and absolute power in the performances of Olsen and Hawkes. I wanted closure. I don't feel like I totally got it with Martha Marcy May Marlene, but  maybe that discomfort is the point.


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