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Thursday, 9 February 2012

Film - Martha Marcy May Marlene - directed by Sean Durkin

Star rating – 8/10

Elizabeth Olsen gives an amazing central performance as a young woman escaping from the damaging influences of a cult (referred to by its members as a community). It’s not clear how and why she got there, but after two years she makes a desperate and confused phone call to her elder sister, who then picks her up and takes to the safety of her weekend retreat in Connecticut. 
Despite her initial guilt at not having done more to prevent whatever it was caused Martha to run away, the sympathy of her and her wealthy husband soon runs out, as Martha’s behaviour gets increasingly weird with no explanation at all from her.

The story is told in constant flash back and forward between the community life and life with her sister. John Hawkes, last seen in ‘Winter’s Bone’ is suitably domineering, manipulative and menacing as the cult leader, Patrick. The film is sometimes a bit too opaque, and there are a few plot lines thrown in that are not really explained or expanded on. The materialist values of the wealthy couple are called into question, but quite what should replace them is never made clear. Certainly not the creepy cult, no matter how strong the sense of belonging it engenders in its members at times.

The chilling and atmospheric soundtrack throughout, which is not so much music as creepy sounds, really helps to build the tension. The storyline might have benefitted from being a bit less mysterious, but it is still a very gripping, unsettling, and creepy watch, and Olsen’s performance is fantastic.

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