Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011, Sean Durkin)

Elizabeth Olsen (hot younger sister of the babies from Full House – god, I’m old) is Martha, renamed Marcy May by the charismatic leader of the commune she joins (played by janitor John Hawkes of Contagion). She leaves/escapes and stays with her older sister (Sarah Paulson of Down With Love) and the sister’s rich, impatient new husband (Hugh Dancy of Rwanda movie Beyond the Gates) at their vacation home. And almost as soon as she gets to their place, I’m thinking she was better off at the commune. She seemed more respected there – besides the rape, obviously.

The past and present come together in pieces – gradually revealing details in a natural way. But what I don’t get is Marcy’s disassociative sense of reality. Other than during her rape-initiation, I didn’t get the feeling that the girls were being drugged at the commune, nor did we get any sense of hypnotism or other psychological conditioning. I figured from the trailer that there’d be some Holy Smoke-style cult-deprogramming going on, but it seemed less like a typical religious-fervor cult than a free-love commune of young people who turn to crime when their farming plans fall through. Nice scare at the end as the unhappy family leaves their vacation house for the city, being followed by cultists – or are they really?

Amother the others in the commune: friz-haired young Sarah (Julia Garner of the illogically titled The Last Exorcism 2) and Brady Corbet (guy who has golf-course sex with the bride in Melancholia, Michael Pitt’s killer bro in the Funny Games remake). Same capable cinematographer as Tiny Furniture. Durkin made a related short called Mary Last Seen, which is on the DVD but I didn’t watch, and helped produce a couple of Antonio Campos movies.

bad option 1:

Lots of good quotes, positive and negative, in the Mubi roundup – I liked this one from K. Uhlich: “A lesser movie might hammer home the idea that the cult squashes Martha’s sense of self. This distinctive and haunting effort implies something much scarier: that there is no self to start with.”

bad option 2:

A. Tracy in Cinema Scope:

[the film’s beginning: a couple commune scenes then Marcy escapes and is caught by Brady Corbet at a diner] neatly throws the viewer off balance a few times over and stakes out the film’s formalist ground: an alternation between distanced observation and intense subjectivity, milking the disorientation and perceptual shifts of the latter to cast a pall of nameless but omnipresent dread over the former. … Omitting any (organized) religious element to Patrick’s bastardized pseudo-philosophy – an immediate red flag for the Blue State audiences that will largely be the ones seeing this film – Durkin allows the horror to emerge gradually, both dramaturgically and formally. …
Despite Olson’s sensitive performance, the frission between the communally indoctrinated Martha and the yuppified Lisa rarely ascends beyond the level of easy caricature … It’s thus that, despite its well-learned manoeuvres, Martha Marcy May Marlene remains solidly within the genre territory that Haneke takes as a departure point in Les temps du loup or Cache, ultimately having little to say about its charged subjects beyond the sum of its largely well-turned effects.

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