Martha Marcy May Marlene Movie Review
After going missing for two years, Martha (Olsen) phones her sister Lucy (Paulson) for help, then goes to stay with Lucy and her husband Ted (Dancy) in a lakeside house. Martha says she's been living with a boyfriend, but actually she was in a cult-like commune with her friend Zoe (Krause), working a farm under the leadership of the charismatic Patrick (Hawkes). Renamed Marcy May, she was coaxed into sharing everything there, including her body, and now she's not quite sure what's real and what isn't. And also whether she actually got away.
Writer-director Durkin tells the story from Martha's blurred perspective, in which she's not quite sure where she is. Does Patrick still have a grip on her? As he leads the commune into increasingly dark behaviour (including gun lessons and invading nearby homes), Martha's connection with the outside world fades away to the point where nothing seems quite right. And the film is inventively shot and edited to put us right inside her mind.
It helps that Olsen delivers such a committed performance as this observant, smart women who drifts into a subculture that seems right despite the warning signs. In the commune, she was the leader she was never allowed to be outside.
And no one selfishly lived in lavish houses surrounded by things they didn't need while talking superficially and clinging to unspoken rules. So which of her two lives makes more sense?
The cast around her is equally seamless, and each relationship feels like it has a life to it far beyond what we see on screen. This makes the film feel somewhat elusive, never quite forming a full picture or explaining what's going on in Martha's mind. She can't remember anything about middle-class New England society, but she knows enough to lie about where she's been living. These touches, as well as the increasingly intense final series of events, make the film extremely hard to get out of your head.