Oct 26, 2011

Thoughts on Martha Marcy May Marlene


My Grade: A-

- This film certainly has the most interesting title of anything in 2011. Having now seen the film and understanding the reasoning behind this selection, I’m all the more impressed. They really could have settled for any generic horror flick title but they chose Martha Marcy May Marlene. Whether this works for the film in terms of advertising and box office, I don’t know, but they’ll definitely pique everyone’s curiosity.

- This is one of those films that kept me on the edge of my seat the whole time. From the opening frame to the final cut, there’s an eeriness about the atmosphere that creeps under our skin and a repressed tension that totally hooks us. Though this tension keeps building up and is never quite relieved, the film surprisingly never buckles under its own pressure. It remains intense throughout and keeps a steady tone. Also, with almost no depiction of violence, gore or really, anything gross at all, Martha Marcy May Marlene scared the crap out of me.

- Elizabeth Olsen is going to be a major film star. There have been quite a few “it” girls in recent years, boasting a combination of acting chops and beauty, and vying for attention on the account of their newcomer status. None of them have proved quite as talented as Olsen (at least on their first try) and surely not as beautiful either. I mean, this girl’s physique is made for the big screen. This face can really belong to any character and it’ll me feel like to one else can take on that role. In Martha Marcy May Marlene, she’s the mirrored image of her troubled soul, her wide and bright face masking her anxiety but her eyes letting out her haunted innocence.

As the younger sister of the noisy twins, it was always going to be difficult for Elizabeth to make a name for herself, but with this nuanced and mesmerizing performance, and all the buzz she’s been making, I have a feeling we might refer to those two as Elizabeth's older sisters in a little while.

- And while I’m on the subject of newcomers, how about that Sean Durkin? How does anyone keep so much control over their audience in their first film?
Durkin has a grip over every element of this movie. With careful framings, seamless transitions between the past and the present, and lots of mileage from the architecture (and the juxtaposition of the confined spaces of the cult house and the open spaces of Lucy’s) he shows that he understands compositions and the formal development of the medium. But equally important are the subtleties that make the film truly outstanding. A touch here, a glance there, just how a floor creaks, or how the characters utter a certain word; it all comes together perfectly.

- We’ve come to expect John Hawkes to be regularly amazing in everything he does and because of his consistent quality, it's easy to take him for granted. He finally got noticed last year with an Oscar nomination for Winter’s Bone. As the cult leader in Martha Marcy May Marlene, he’s every bit as impressive and even more frightening as he was there. I’m definitely curious to see what he’s got in the bag next. Also, the man's a terrific singer.


  1. This one is only showing on one screen near me, I hope it is successful enough to stay running for awhile longer, because it looks like a must see and I cant make the trip for a couple weeks.

  2. Despite being art house it's still follows movie conventions. I felt as if Martha's being silent only to keep the tension between her and her family. And the editing never felt natural to me, as if Durkin is doing it for novelty's sake. But when it comes to the performances and the mood, I am so there.

  3. But Paolo, why did you feel the editing was unnatural. I thought the transitions were both easy on the eye and temporally on the dot.

  4. I thought the editing was very good. Not sure what 'natural' editing means. But the editing actually fits both as a narrative technique to move the story forward and as something to clue us in on her state of mind.

  5. "and as something to clue us in on her state of mind."
    I agree. The reason the film floats so beautifully between past and present, and dream and reality is exactly this quality of its editing.

  6. Looking forward to Martha Marcy May Marlene, only hearing positive things about it

    It's a great title, so is Cave of forgotten dreams, Herzogs documentary from 2011