Martha Marcy May Marlene


After seeing this GIF on Tumblr I was reminded of the gorgeous and talented Elizabeth Olsen (whom I’d seen in Liberal Arts) and decided to check out her IMDB profile. It wasn’t too hard to pinpoint which movie the GIF came from and I was happy to find it on Netflix.


Martha Marcy May Marlene, directed by Sean Durkin is the story of a girl who escapes from a cult to live with her older sister and her brother-in-law. Her struggles to differentiate between past and present, adjust to new social expectations and values, and deal with unending paranoia offer a dark and insightful view of the mentally scarred.

It’s one of those movies you watch and the whole time you’re kind of like “WTF” and then it ends and you’re even more like “WTF” – you can’t say you loved it but you know it was good.


The film stars Elizabeth Olsen who is nuanced in her cringe-worthy but likeable role as Martha. Her sister is played by Sarah Paulson, who you may recognize from American Horror Story. I found many similarities between the two, although MMMM relies less on horror tropes and more on psychological and physical disorientation. The brother-in-law is played by Hugh Dancy, who is just as likeable as in Jane Austen Book Club (also on Netflix and a great ‘chick flick’). Girls fans will recognize Christopher Abbott who plays a sweet yet awkward member of the cult. The cult leader is played by John Hawkes who sings a surprisingly good and catchy song (that is completely creepy in the context of the film).

One of the most interesting aspects of the film was Durkin’s use of sound and space to add realism, disorientation and emotion to the scene. Almost every scene left you wanting more and barriers to hearing conversations, seeing characters, and understanding the setting made me feel a strong sense of presence as a viewer. At times these angles and the muffled audio was frustrating but overall it added to the ‘incomplete’ sensation of the film, putting you inside Martha’s head (and offering her limited perspective) while still keeping you at arm’s length.


If you’re looking for something different to watch, enjoy psychological thrillers, and are prepared to have your eyebrows arched for a good portion of the film (cults are strange) I’d recommend watching it.


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