Saturday 4 February 2012

Review: Martha Marcy May Marlene

Review: 2011 ( U.K release 2012)
Director: Sean Durkin
Screenplay: Sean Durkin
Starring: Elizabeth Olson, John Hawkes

Synopsis is here:

I have all the respect in the world for Sean Durkin, the writer/director of Martha Marcy May Marlene. It's an original screenplay of a premise that you don't see that often. It is a wonderfully accomplished feature début from a technical standpoint, with some striking photography and match cuts. The central performance from Elizabeth Olson shows that she certainly looks like someone whose career looks worth following. It's not that it's a bad film in any real way. But I kept asking myself, why does it feel so inconsequential?

Personally; I wanted more, and while that's not really the films fault, I did find myself underwhelmed with it all. The films ambiguous ending that should leave chills up the spine only left me cold and limp. The whole day I've asked why is that?

It's not for the films lack of trying. Far from it. In fact there's many aspects of the film I admired. Martha, an unreliable protagonist ebbs in and out of a timeline that is shattered as much as her memory. She has no awareness of the time that's passed and neither do we as we are thrown back and forth through isolated moments, highlighting not only the confusion, but the paranoia of the situation. As the movie unravels and we slowly gain a certain amount of sense as to what happened to this poor girls situation, we realise the danger that the girl is in and how damaged she really is. The fact that Martha cannot fathom the differences between the sexual free for all aspects of the cult and swimming naked around her sisters house (where children maybe present) quietly illustrate how broken down her barriers are in the beginning. 

This is not a film to show Roman Polanski, as the shades of Charles Manson and the Sharon Tate murders (as well as aspects of the Children of God) are rampant, even if unintentional. The farm that this new age cult have taken up has that same insidious intent hidden behind incoherent hippie babble and false smiles. The leader; Patrick (John Hawkes), is a master of subtle manipulation. Lovebombing and grooming his followers, Patrick comes across as everything such vulnerable and lost young people would cling to. Once emotionally deteriorated we see hints of what he wishes to mould them into.
I love the idea of all this and I find myself attracted to films like that with such lost characters such as Martha. However, any emotion found in the appears to fade as quickly she remembers them. There are hints at something deeper and more involving, but I just couldn't get past the surface. While we don't need overtly explicit scenes in a film like this, Durkin's film held me at a distance that was a touch too far too investing into anything other than a passing fancy.

The nightmares and tension almost reach a befitting climax, but at the expense of a film that hasn't really built up the pace for them. Hawkes and Olson win out on the strength of their performances and the film generates a troubling aura when the two are together. However, in the end it just doesn't do enough to be as memorable as I felt it could be. It doesn't help that after watching films like Jonestown which documents cults at their very worst, you remember that real life always has a way of reminding you that it's always scarier.