“What happened to you?,” asked Lucy; “I don’t know,” answered Martha.
Though everything was left ambiguous, I enjoyed Sean Durkin’s roller-coasting debut Martha Marcy May Marlene in positive ways. All I see was a nuanced psychological drama of paranoia and an attempt to cope with it—crafted in a harrowing theme about some abusive cult.
While other films found it comfortable in illustrating how a cult grows or how people get recruited, even the life in a cult; MMMM made a proper drama about leaving a cult and the aftermath. It was a great setup for the titular characters’ tale. Those names refer to one person, Martha (Elizabeth Olsen), who escaped from an abusive cult and got sheltered by her only sister, Lucy (Sarah Poulson). The cult was a nightmare for Martha, who was rechristened as Marcy May by the cult leader, Patrick (Oscar-nominee, John Hawkes); yet, getting out of it was a further terror. From there, the film revolved around Martha’s inside upheaval, as her perception about the conduct of the world started to change, and her paranoia of being pursued by the cult. In a beautiful indie’s freedom, MMMM found the way to keep it as thought-provoking as possible although most of the time it felt haunting and disturbing.
It was Elizabeth Olsen, the gem of all, who made the paranoia vivid and menacing. This film was her debut, before she became the franchise-darling. Her poignant performance was a miracle as she gave depth to the character; as a first-timer, her performance was very enticing. Most of the stories about Martha’s life in the cult were presented in flashbacks which were juxtaposed with the concurring paranoia moments she got; Olsen nailed both timelines well with amount of emotion that goes up and down in no time.
Although the pace was very slow and the flashbacks were sometimes ‘annoying’, Olsen’s performances successfully glued eyes on observing her. MMMM is definitely a character-study and a groundbreaking narrative treatment served in an indie’s beauty. It’s imperfect but knowing what its key to look perfect.
VERDICT: As much as the harrowing theme is haunting, Elizabeth Olsen’s excruciating debut is as poignant; a direful performance that provides depth to the whole film.