“I just wasted two hours of my life.” That should not be the first thought that comes to mind after seeing a film, nor is it a good way to start a movie review. But, thanks to Sean Durkin’s direction of this one-dimensional film I felt let down at the end and even a little brainwashed myself.
Martha Marcy May Marlene is a story about a young twenty-something woman, whose original name is Martha (played by Elizabeth Olson), and her escape from an abusive cult (are there any other types?).
The film opens with the day-to-day operations of a commune in the Catskills – chopping wood, hanging laundry, talking on the porch (this was either a cult or an opening shot of Little House on the Prairie).
Our Martha escapes into town to call her only sister, Lucy (played by Sarah Paulson), who then drives three hours from Connecticut to rescue Martha. After making it home, Martha continues to have flashbacks of her time spent at the farm. I will admit that earlier comment about Durkin’s direction was mean so I will make it up here – Durkin did a great job of interweaving the time line of the present day at Lucy’s lake house in Connecticut and the past at the farm in New York. But that’s it for the compliments. OK, just one more … Olson did a wonderful job of portraying a young confused girl who grows into a confident woman in just a few short weeks. This was her first feature film and she held her own role with ease.
As the audience, we are asked to hold our own attention on the film while the camera tells the story during several periods of non-dialogue. There is little intrigue on how Martha arrived at the farm and why she needed to escape. After her first assault scene, we ask ourselves “why would anyone stick around after that?” Having no place to go she stays and the other members convince her that it is a good decision.
We do find out why Martha added on three more names too. Marcy May is given to her when she is introduced to the leader, Patrick (played by John Hawkes). He says she looks like a Marcy May and all the members adopt what he says without question. As with all great cult leaders, Patrick finds his victims’ (the new members) weak areas, exposes them for what they are and gives them confidence. Find the weak and build them the way you want them built. It’s an easy formula to start your own cult.
For most of the film we are trying desperately to find a reason why we should care about Martha. It’s obvious that the girl is emotionally scarred and a couple of weeks at the lake house ain’t gonna help. Get the girl to a shrink and fast. Eventually all is revealed to as what happened on the farm but with very little pay off to the audience on what the characters are going to do to fix it.
Should you see this movie? Your life won’t be affected either way if you skip it. We all know cults are bad, we don’t need to be told again. However, this is a good opportunity to see Olson in her first film role because she does have enough talent to carry a two-hour film, even if we do want that two hours back at the end.