Thursday, November 3, 2011


Elizabeth Olsen (younger sister of Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen) puts her name on the grown-up actress map with a powerful performance in MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE (or 4M for this lazy typist); a disturbing psychological thriller with more tension than a drum head.

Martha (Olsen) is seduced into living and working on a farm run by a Davidian-like cult. The cult is led by Patrick (John Hawkes), who has sex with all the women so they can father his many sons. The women exist only to serve the men, and they even take their given names away from them. Martha (or Marcy May, as she is renamed by the cult), runs away and begins a new life with her sister Lucy (Sarah Paulson) and her husband Ted (Hugh Dancy). Martha is unwilling (or unable) to reveal where she has been for the last two years, and becomes increasingly paranoid that the cult is watching her.

4M is smartly intercut in-between Martha’s new life and her old one. Not so much flashbacks as they are interesting parallels to her two lives (similar to GODFATHER II), they unravel some great drama as her present situation is closely tied to events that happened to her at the cult. Things get very interesting when her reality lines become blurred, and she cannot figure out if her life at the farm was just a dream or if it really happened. Things also get interesting when she realizes that her new life of freedom has just as many limitations as the one she had in captivity.

Director Sean Durkin builds an incredible atmosphere of tension with some long, quiet takes in which the camera never moves. Scenes are played out in long, single takes with occasional SLOOOOOOW zooms and fades that keeps the viewer pinned on the edge of their seat.

Olsen really sells the film. She is convincing throughout, displaying pain, fear and joy with simple facial expressions. She lets the emotion build and then powerfully erupt. She even handles a disturbing rape scene well.

As great as the film is, the ending is a bit of a stinker; wrapping in a stupid abrupt manner that offers no closure or absolution and is nearly infuriating. It is clear that the filmmakers painted themselves into a corner; having put their character into such a desperate situation, they had no idea how to get her out of it…so they just ended the movie. It’s frustrating after such an emotional journey we spend with her, but at least they didn’t let the film become just another run-of-the-mill flick where there is always a girl being chased around by a guy with a knife. Still, the finale is a head-shaker, and almost enough to derail everything. Almost.


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