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Heather's DVD Review: Martha Marcy May Marlene

Updated on May 12, 2012
Martha Marcy May Marlene Poster
Martha Marcy May Marlene Poster
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Is it possible to live a normal life after living in an abusive situation for so many years? That's the premise behind the DVD release of Martha Marcy May Marlene, which was a mixed bag in terms of results. Some of them good and the others weren't up to the same standards.

Martha Marcy May Marlene followed a young woman named Martha (Elizabeth Olsen) who was stuck in a bad situation with a violent cult that was getting too dangerous for her. She gathered the strength to run away from the group who were located in Upstate New York and contacted her estranged sister Lucy (Sarah Paulson). Once Lucy picked her up, Martha's world changed greatly as she was thrown into a totally different world. She watched as Lucy and her new husband Ted (Hugh Dancy). The couple are going through the stress of trying to have a child and aren't prepared to handle the trauma that Martha had been through for two years. As Martha tried to move on, she kept flashing back to when she first fell under Patrick's (John Hawkes) sway and became one of his many followers. As time went on, Martha mentally erased all parts of her past and became devoted to Patrick entirely. She lied, stole and manipulated for him. Sadly, her devotion had a dark side that threatened to swallow her whole. Can Lucy save Martha from her darkest nightmare?

In terms of plot, Martha Marcy May Marlene had potential but it got hindered by one of the vaguest movie endings ever. It resolved nothing and simply left a bad taste in every viewer's mouth. The ending could've gone either way: good or bad. It just didn't reveal which direction it went. There were a few hints sprinkled in the movie as red herrings for the audience, but it didn't do much to give a valid resolution. What the movie did right was giving the rest of the film a less than linear feel that told the story from Martha's viewpoint and made viewers feel their pain. Each flashback scene revealed another layer of Martha's torture as she further sacrificed herself to become part of the group. The only thing that the movie didn't explain was what led Martha into joining Patrick's cult and how her relationship with Lucy got so fractured. It might've been better to see how Lucy and Martha became strangers than wondering the entire movie. In the end, Martha's story was sold perfectly due to the gloomy and disturbing atmosphere it projected. When Martha and her fellow followers went from gardening to breaking and entering, viewers saw the extreme lengths she would go to for a questionable love and it was disturbing.

What also made the movie worth watching was the stellar performance from relative newcome Olsen who gave Martha a mixture of innocence and traumatized survivor at the same time. Her wide eyed appearance made her an acting mystery that drew viewers in, even when the plot got to be too uncomfortable to watch. They wanted to support her as she attempted to sever her ties to Patrick, but the bond was too strong to end. Olsen's breakthrough scenes often came when Martha had her quiet moments and she reflected on her time. The most memorable was in the beginning when she hungrily ate her meal at a local diner after she ran away. That meal was her first step toward civilization and she wasn't going to let anyone get in her way. Like in Winter's Bone, Hawkes portrayed a dangerous and unpredictable villain who was fascinating and frightening to watch at the same time. Hopefully, this role doesn't lead to typecasting Hawkes as a dark and mysterious too soon. Hopefully, he'll do something different in his next movie. The movie's biggest casualties were Dancy and Paulson had little to do, except whine and wonder aimlessly why Martha was acting so stangely instead of helping her sort through her pain. Overall, Martha was worth watching for Olsen's breakout performance and a disturbing story.

Verdict: A star is born in Olsen, but the movie wasn't entirely up to par with her superb performance.

DVD Score: 3 out of 5 stars (For Olsen's Performance)

2 out of 5 stars (For the Movie Itself)

Movie Rating: R

Score Chart
1 Star (Mediocre)
2 Stars (Averagely Entertaining)
3 Stars (Decent Enough to Pass Muster)
4 Stars (Near Perfect)
5 Stars (Gold Standard)


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    • Steve Orion profile image

      Steve Orion 5 years ago from Tampa, Florida

      While I would probably rate the movie a point, maybe and a half, higher, I think the overall quality of the film didn't fit its potential. The delivery, I felt, had some pacing and plot issues, but the acting was very good all around.

      Thanks for another movie review, rated up and I look forward to you other Hubs!