Movie Review: “Martha Marcy May Marlene”

Published by Clay Cane on Thursday, December 8, 2011 at 12:00 am.

(Photo: Courtesy Fox Searchlight Pictures)

Summary: Martha (Elizabeth Olsen) has been living in a sadistic cult for two years. She runs away to her sister’s house, who must deal with a mentally and sexually damaged Martha while trying to repair their relationship.

Review: Remember when indies were edgy, broke new ground and changed the trajectory of film? The original The Texas Chainsaw Massacre in 1974, Spike Lee’s She’s Gotta Have It in 1989, or 2002’s City of God are independent flicks that proved low budget films can be just as interesting — if not more — than Hollywood blockbusters. Now, “indie” is a marketing label that gives lazy films credibility. Martha Marcy May Marlene is the perfect example. Every flaw can be summed up with: “Well, it’s an indie!”

Written and directed by Sean Durkin, the Fox Searchlight movie is a shallow, empty-headed, clichéd indie film that uses the label of “artsy” as a pass for poor writing and sloppy execution. The only positive about Martha Marcy May Marlene is that Elizabeth Olsen is a good actress — she could be a great actress but we wouldn’t know from a character that super-sizes on long stares and pouty lips. But the youngest Olsen does have a presence on camera.

Olsen played Martha — who I assumed was in her early twenties — and for some unexplained reason, joined a cult and randomly decided to return to her sister after two years. When home with big sis, she urinates on her clothes and stuffs them in her mattress. She swims naked. She slip in bed with her sister and her hubby while they are having sex. She spits out insults. Most of these scenarios are explained but the creaky pace sucks away any tension — regardless of the film being labeled a “thriller.”

Then there is the open-ended finale, leaving the viewer to their own “interpretation” — another poisonous ingredient in the indie genre.  I look forward to seeing more from the director and Olsen, but Martha Marcy May Marlene is one of the most over-hyped films of 2011.

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Judi Said on

Amen to your review of this film. I was eager to see it given the hype but was so disappointed. No explanation of the characters, the origin of the cult, why martha became involved, and most of all the unexplained ending. Isn’t it the goal of indie writers and actors to eventually BECOME mainstream by exposing their audience to new and exciting stories and talent? Guess not.