This was a tough ticket at last years TIFF – which means (as a foreigner) I didn’t get one. Released on DVD a month ago, it finally came up in my queue. It’s an unusual, well-made, taut psychological cult film. Marcy (she of the four names, which ought to tell you something) is from a fractured home and is a prime target of charismatic cults that prey on the lost and those that don’t belong.
We don’t know much about her family history, except her older sister is about all she has left, so when she gets up the courage to escape, this is where she goes. The story of cult life is fed out in subtle flashbacks. Director Sean Durkin, in this his first feature film, has delivered something pretty special. Durkin manages these flashbacks so well that there seems to be a lag in our brains before we realize we’re in flashback mode.
At first, her sister is glad to see her, but she’s newly married and Marcy is a lot to handle, having trouble readjusting to so-called normal life, after the unusual aspects of cult life. Looked at objectively, Marcy’s sister Lucy and her husband are the reasonable substitute parents and Marcy is the spoiled brat. But soon it becomes obvious that she’s descending into paranoia and losing her grip on reality. Besides, Lucy obviously has guilt issues about her past relationship with her sister and her new husband is something og a prig. I found myself pulling for Marcy and taking her side.
The film ends on a note that probably will be a bit controversial in the sense of…huh? what just happened? I can go both ways on endings like this (resolution si, resolution no) but this one I’m still thinking about and just can’t decide
Elizabeth Olsen’s Marcy (the “other”, younger of the Olsen twins) I have not seen before and she does a fine job here. Her performance is haunting and ultimately moving. Except for John Hawkes performance as the cul leader Patrick, the rest of the cast doesn’t really stand out for me, but none of the performances hinder the production either. Hawkes (Sol in Deadwood, Teardrop in Winter’s Bone) plays Patrick with that sinister, menacing charismatic scruffiness that can attract-repel like a magnet.
Martha Marcy May Marlene is a film well worth seeing, and a surprisingly accomplished first feature from Durkin.