Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 88% (Critics) / 77% (Audience)
Directed By: Sean Durkin
Written By: Sean Durkin
Starring: Elizabeth Olsen, Sarah Paulson, John Hawkes
Studio: Fox Searchlight Pictures
Synopsis: MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE is the story of Martha, a recent escapee from a creepy upstate New York cult full of sister-wives and brother-husbands growing their own food and living in abject squalor. After fleeing the cult Martha runs to her estranged sister who is spending some time at a vacation home in Connecticut with her husband. As Martha tries to get her bearings and re-assimilate to normal living, her sister tries to repair the broken relationship between the two. This becomes difficult because Martha is damaged goods and continues to behave in the way she did as part of the free-loving hippie cult which freaks her sister and brother-in-law out.
Is it possible for a movie to fall into a coma? If it is then that has to be what happened to MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE because this movie seems to come to complete stops far too frequently for my tastes.
The only time this movie really starts to get moving is in the flashbacks to Martha first meeting and becoming indoctrinated into the cult. I could have watched an entire movie about how cult leader Patrick (played with wiry electric intensity by John Hawkes) brainwashed Martha (who he renamed Marcy May upon first meeting her) and the rest of his group into following him. Things like the initial rape that somehow Patrick makes the girls see as a beautiful seduction or how he is able to keep the male members of the group in his thrall. Even if the movie were to have focused just on Martha’s growing disillusionment with the cult seemingly spurred more by her jealousy of Patrick’s attention shifting to new female recruits rather than her seeing the toxicity of the situation I think it would have been a better overall film. Instead what we are left with is an agonizingly slow movie that only stays afloat based on the strength of the performance by Elizabeth Olsen (the only talented Olsen judging by the resumes of her sisters Mary Kate and Ashley) as Martha.
Final Verdict: Watching Olsen stumble through this film in a confused haze not knowing whether she is really free of the cult and living with her sister or if she is just dreaming all of it is mesmerizing. She plays Martha like an open wound and at times it is even uncomfortable to watch her scenes because she is capable of so realistically playing such a damaged individual. Some of the best work she dos in in scenes where she conveys an almost aching need to be back with the cult despite knowing the dangers of allowing them to find her again. She displays subtle range that is quite impressive for such a new actress. If only the movie were up to the caliber of her performance but instead it is more often than not almost painfully, catatonically still. C+