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Blu-ray Review: Martha Marcy May Marlene

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With a title like Martha Marcy May Marlene, you half expect this indie flick to be about some backwoods lass in cutoffs and a t-shirt. And you would only be about half right in that assumption. The low-key independent film — which is marketed on the backside of the cover as a “gripping psychological thriller,” though I think it is more accurate description would be “a boring infuriating drama” — brings us the account of a lost soul named Martha (Elizabeth Olsen, the other “other” Olsen sister, in her feature film debut), who, at the beginning of our tale, escapes from the confines of a rural cult commune, and is picked up by her sister, Lucy (Sarah Paulson).

Thoroughly brainwashed by the cult’s deranged leader (John Hawkes — choice casting), Martha — or “Marcy May” as her former “family” calls her — has a hard time coping with reality from thereon in. She feels it’s OK to crawl into bed with her sister and her sister’s husband, Ted (Hugh Dancy), while they’re having sex, having been a part of an open sexual group. She also feels Ted and Lucy are living life the wrong way by working towards careers, and strips down completely in order to go swimming in the lake (yes, you finally get to see some Olsen flesh in this one — and at least this sister has some meat on her bones).

Martha Marcy May Marlene jumps back and forth from the present to the past, and we learn of the various unpleasantries our pitiful heroine has encountered, as well as how brutal the cult she was a part of is capable of being. Unable to talk about what she has fled from, Martha just annoys her sister and brother-in-law a lot (as well as the viewer). Martha goes mental on more than one occasion, before her blood family eventually begin to theorize there might be something wrong. And then, after sitting there, staring blankly at the screen for 100 minutes and watching one random scene after another, waiting for something to at long last happen, the damn movie simply ends.

Now, I’m fairly adept at using my imagination, and can assemble my own theory as to what happens when a movie is left open-ended like that. In this case, however, newbie writer/director Sean Durkin seems to be very absorbed in his own pretentiousness. He attempts to create the illusion that Martha’s memory may be that of a false one, and that her present fears are the underlying aspects of an unbalanced mind. Ultimately, the only thing that is really in need of some serious adjusting here is Durkin’s story. Much as Martha Marcy May Marlene is having a hard time escaping the cult, I’m experiencing great difficulties fathoming how this picture got made.

Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment releases this Fox Searchlight flick in a fine 1080p transfer, with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack that does a more than adequate job in presenting Martha Marcy May Marlene’s rather minimalist dialogue and overpowering music score. Special features for this dreary, lackluster drama include the short film Mary Last Seen, which is something of a prequel as it focuses on the same cult; several featurettes about star Elizabeth Olsen and the making-of the film; a music video for a song played in the movie (oy vey!); and trailers for this and other Fox releases.

In short: unless you’re one of those truly ostentatious types who thought Inglourious Basterds had a deep message about “Would you kill Hitler if you could?” (and there are people like that out there, I can assure you) you’ll probably want to avoid Martha Marcy May Marlene outright.

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About Luigi Bastardo

Luigi Bastardo is the disgruntled alter-ego of a thirtysomething lad from Northern California who has watched so many weird movies since the tender age of 3 that a conventional life is out of the question. He currently lives in Chico, CA with four cats named Groucho, Harpo, Chico, and Margaret. Seriously.
  • Jeff

    I thought Elizabeth gave a pretty good performance but the movie was just a tad slow going and the end was a bit of a let down. I would have preferred to see more of the cult and possibly more of her really going off the deep end. It was just ok.