Quickie: Martha Marcy May Marlene

Martha Marcy May MarleneWhen Martha (Elizabeth Olsen) escapes from a commune, she goes to stay with her sister but struggles to adapt to normal life. As she continues to alienate herself from those around her, her grip on reality gets looser and looser.

MMMM is apparently loosely based on the Manson Family cult, which gives the film a much more sinister undertone, one that comes to the forefront as the film progresses. We see Martha’s experiences in the commune through a series of flashbacks, each of which gets progressively unsettling. And it’s ‘unsettling’ that best describes the film. There’s not much to scare, but plenty to unnerve thanks in part to the remote rural setting and constant perturbing use of sound.

It can be rather slow paced at times and the distinction between present and past is sometimes (deliberately?) ambiguous, which may prove slightly confusing. The film’s conclusion is also likely to be contentious for many. Without giving too much away, it’s hugely open-ended and relies on the audience to fill in quite a few gaps. This abrupt ending may be frustrating for some but it does leave you mulling over the various interpretations and the possibilities of what may or may not happen.

This is Elizabeth Olsen’s second picture after 2011’s Silent House and she does a superb job throughout. As Martha (Marcy May & Marlene are names she picks up in the commune) she is perfectly on edge at all times, whilst John Hawkes as commune leader Patrick is also excellent.

MMMM is not an easy watch but it’s one that gives more the more you invest in it. Its quirky Instagrammed look becomes slightly tiresome and you do have to work hard at times, but there’s enough here to keep you intrigued to the end.

3 and a half pigeons

3.5/5 pigeons

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38 thoughts on “Quickie: Martha Marcy May Marlene

  1. NIce review. I saw this for the first time a couple of weeks ago and loved it. I liked the ambiguous story-telling and thought the film looked beautiful. Great performances all round too… except Hugh Dancy, who doesn’t seem able to act (I’m not sure that I’ve seen him in anything else to compare this to).

    • Thanks man. It did look pretty great, can’t argue with that. I enjoyed it, there was just something that stopped me from loving it but I don’t know what. The performances were great though, Olsen and Hawkes were excellent.

  2. theipc says:

    I think this is the perfect review – it’s *MEH* but engaging enough to finish….

    GOOD WORK!!!

  3. Frame Rates says:

    I reeeeeally couldn’t get on with this film. I felt weird and like I was missing something when it came out on lots of Top 10s of last year/ year before, but now I feel slightly more normal. I had to switch it off the first time, and barely made it through the second. I’d put it in with Tinker, Tailor as films I don’t like but wish I did. Kinda…

    • I didn’t feel like I wanted to turn it off but I definitely didn’t connect with it like some people have. I don’t know whether it was because I didn’t find any of the characters particularly likeable or something but there was something missing from it I felt.

  4. CMrok93 says:

    It was creepy and tense at times, but other times felt like it was doing the same, damn thing, over and over again. Good review.

  5. filmhipster says:

    Nothing like a good commune film. Sounds rather interesting Chris. Might give it a shot.

  6. ruth says:

    The subject matter doesn’t interest me but I’m curious to see Elizabeth Olson’s supposedly-acclaimed performance, never saw her before in anything. Plus I like John Hawkes though his character sounds awful here.

    • Both of their performances are really good, probably the best things about the film to be honest. Hawkes’ character is pretty horrible though, you’re right. It’s hard to say whether it’s worth seeing just for the performances, maybe not to be honest.

      • ruth says:

        Hmmm, then I’ll heed your advice. I’m sure Olson will turn up again in other (better) movies. Btw, if you like Hawkes, he’s absolutely phenomenal in The Sessions.

      • I really want to see that! I was disappointed I missed it at the cinema. It looks like a polar opposite role to this one. He was good in Winter’s Bone too, quite similar to his role in MMMM actually.

  7. Nick Powell says:

    MMMM sounds like you’re eating something delicious. Care to share?

  8. I thought I was going to love this film… but I just could not get into it. While Hawkes and Olson were both good in this film, I had a hard time seeing how anyone would be joining that cult.

    Maybe I need to re-watch it.

  9. Dan Heaton says:

    “Unsettling” is definitely the right word for this film. I liked the way it played with the past and the present, a conflict that was likely happening in MMMM’s head. The ending is tricky because you can read it multiple ways. Is what we’re seeing on the screen reliable or just in her head? I’m intrigued by this film but also feel a bit cold towards it. Nice review.

    • Thanks Dan. I felt a little cold towards it too to be honest. I did like it and it kept me watching to the end but there was just something about it that stopped me from loving it. The ending is an odd one and I can easily see how it would frustrate some people.

  10. keith7198 says:

    Very nice review! I thought this was a pretty good movie but I really thought the ending should have been a little less ambiguous.

  11. Tyson Carter says:

    Nice write up dude. Not my kind of film though, the title sounds weird 🙂

  12. Mark Walker says:

    I couldn’t really get into this one Chris. I turned it off about half way in with the intention of going back to it. I never did but will try again some day.

  13. ckckred says:

    Nice review. I’ve been trying to watch this one for a while.

  14. I just kept waiting for something interesting to happen in this movie. At the end, I was still waiting. I never saw anything in the cult leader that would draw people to him.

  15. sati says:

    I gave the movie similar grade, it had excellent acting but overall it didn’t intrigue me as much as I thought it will. Hawkes is so great he can be such amazing villains and such nice guys depending on the role he takes on.

  16. Griff says:

    Nice write up! We did a full 3 guys review on this one and unfortunately I was in Mexico at the time and a friend of ours filled in for me. They gave the film a pretty harsh review. I watched it later and thought it was great. Nice write up!

  17. Nostra says:

    I loved that ambiguity. I also wished the movie was longer as I loved the exploration and mix of past and present.

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