Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Genre: Drama, Thriller
Opens locally on Friday, November 4th, 2011
Run Time: 1 hour, 41 minutes, Rated R
Starring: Elizabeth Olsen, Sarah Paulson, John Hawkes, Hugh Dancy
Written & Directed by Sean Durkin (feature film debut)
The oddly titled “Martha Marcy May Marlene” is a fierce, tense drama that borderlines as a “thriller” only because of the dark subject matter at hand. Other than the off-putting title, the major draw of this film is that it stars the younger sister (Elizabeth) of Mary-Kate & Ashley Olsen, the child actors who made up the cute and annoyingly popular duo, the Olsen Twins, stars of TV’s “Full House” and some other straight-to-video children movies.
She picked one heck of a role to jump into adulthood with. She plays a young woman, who at times is known by different names (thus the film’s title.) An impressionable teen, she is seduced into joining a cult-community headed by the powerfully creepy John Hawkes , who channels the same energy he used so effectively in last year’s “Winter’s Bone.” Martha manages to escape the community, seeking refuge with her sister (Paulson) and sister’s husband. But the scars on her soul are so deep and wounding, she struggles to live a normal life.
The film does a great job of creating an underlying tone of suspense, heightened by the constant emotion flashing in the eyes of Martha. She is a complex gal, struggling with a slew of things, and the wrong actress would play the role as a crazy person, with matted hair and fluttering eyes. Elizabeth Olsen is not the wrong actress, in fact, she is a perfect fit. She brings layers of intensity and vulnerability quite remarkable for someone thought of as a “child star.” She’s already way past that label in my mind…she’s a bona fide serious actress, and should have no problem furthering her career with roles as hefty as this one.
The movie can sometimes be confusing, as it cuts back and forth as Martha flashes back from present to past, and back again. But it’s fitting given her psychological state. The style of the film is not the problem…the problem comes in how the film wraps up. Olsen creates an interesting character that compels us to follow, and then the film outsmarts itself in the end…a interesting thrill ride that ends with the cart flying off of the track.
Still, if you can get over the title, you should find it at your local theatre. John Hawkes is in his comfort zone but nonetheless his performance is worth watching. But it is Elizabeth Olsen’s coming out party. It’s great to see her maturity in taking on such an adult role, and if you can forgive the ending, “Martha Marcy May Marlene” may be a worthy trip into madness.
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