Drama / Reviews

Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011) DVD review

When Martha escapes from a cult, she has extreme difficulties re-adjusting to everyday life.

I’m just going to put this out there right now.  I did not like this film.  Was it poorly made?  No.  Was it poorly acted?  On the contrary, Elizabeth Olsen was stunning in this film.  To me, it just didn’t hit the marks it needed to to be entertaining.  I review my films based on entertainment value.  This film was the exact opposite of entertaining.

When Martha escapes from a cult led by Patrick (John Hawkes), she moves in with her sister and her husband.  The movie is then told through flashbacks that show what happened to her in the cult.  It also shows how she is mentally disturbed by her time in said cult.

The biggest problem I had with this film is that it never shows anything extremely bad happening to her in the cult.  She is never obviously brainwashed, hell, it never actually tells you what kind of cult it is.  On the contrary, other than a murder that occurs, it seems like life is pretty good in the cult.  Patrick is never physically abusive, though he does take sexual advantage of the girls on their first night there.  But he honestly seems to take care of them.  With the exception of the murder and the initial sexual assault, I cannot see why Martha loses such contact with reality.

I know when you read that that I seem flippant about the murder and sexual abuse.  I am not being flippant.  The film itself is.  It is never focused on enough to actually get you to care enough or see why she is so traumatized.  It states that she has been gone for two years, but you only get brief glimpses into life in the cult, and other than the aforementioned, you never get a feeling of dread or that Patrick is controlling them.

I actually find it really hard to believe that Martha could be so out of touch with reality after only two years.  She seems to have forgotten all social conventions, which is shown in two scenes in particular.  In one scene, she just strips down to swim.  No swimsuit.  Her sister sees her and freaks out.  The other scene involves her climbing into bed with her sister and her husband when they are having sex.  When her sister asks her what she is doing, she replies that she can’t sleep.  While her sister and brother-in-law are obviously horrified, Martha is nonchalant about it.  She doesn’t seem to understand what she did was wrong.  I just find it hard to believe that after only two years she would be so out of touch.

While looking online for reviews (I don’t read reviews prior to reviewing.  I do look at Rotten Tomatoes scores, though), I saw that Rotten Tomatoes has this scoring a 90%.  I do not understand that.  While Elizabeth Olsen’s performance is simply stunning, that is not enough to carry a film.  I feel that the story misses important beats into understanding the character of Martha and what the cult was actually about.

There really isn’t a lot more that I have to say about this film.  While I wouldn’t consider it a failure, I also don’t feel that it lives up to it’s potential.  There is a great movie using this material.  Unfortunately, this is not it.  The only reason I would recommend this film is for the performances of Elizabeth Olsen and the always reliable John Hawkes.

Movie ** out of **** (It actually gets an extra star because of the stunning performance of Elizabeth Olsen.  I cannot stress enough how amazing she is here.)

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5 thoughts on “Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011) DVD review

  1. Have you seen 50/50, not the same type of movie at all. But it has great acting, good directing, but it got a 90 something on RT and the movie just does not gel completely. It’s not funny enough to be a comedy and not sad enough to be a drama.

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