Archive for John Hawkes

“Martha Marcy May Marlene” explores a damages human psyche

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , on November 11, 2011 by Steve Mesa

“Martha Marcy May Marlene” is a quiet and haunting film that takes an in-depth look at the psychological effect a person goes through after getting involved with a cult.

The film opens with a young blonde woman by the name of Martha (Elizabeth Olsen) escaping a hippie-like cult that she has stayed with for two years. When she finally finds a pay phone, Martha calls her older sister, Lucy (Sarah Paulson), who offers her to pick her up. Martha moves in with her sister and her husband Ted (Hugh Dancy) at their Connecticut lake house. As soon as Martha arrives, she begins displaying an unusual behavior pattern like asking inappropriate questions and crawling into bed with Lucy and Ted while their having sex.

The title of “Martha Marcy May Marlene” comes from the different names that Martha is given. Marcy May is the name given to her by cult leader Patrick (John Hawkes) and Marlene is the name given to her by her another cult member whenever she inadvertently answers the phone in the farm that the cult resides in. It is also plays to possible different personalities that Martha might have thanks to her frail psyche that was damaged during her time in the cult. With everything that Martha has gone through, she become paranoid that her fellow cult members and Patrick are looking for her. The film blurs the line between Martha’s illusion and reality as she become paranoid that her fellow cult members and Patrick might be after her.

Elizabeth Olsen, who is the younger sister of twins Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, delivers an amazing performance in her major film role. As Martha, Olsen displays a wide range of emotions throughout the movie along with portraying how psychological damaged Martha is because of what she endured from her experience in the cult. After his Oscar-nominated role in “Winter’s Bone”, John Hawkes delivers another terrific performance as the charismatic and frightening cult leader, Patrick, who seems to be a combination of Charles Manson and Jim Jones. There is a somewhat unpredictability to what makes Patrick tick, along with Hawkes showing the extent of his character’s evilness as the movie shows how easily he can brainwash a group of people to commit crimes along with preaching ominous messages to his cult like “Death is pure love”.

One of the most remarkable things about “Martha Marcy May Marlene” is the way movie is constructed to build up a sense of dread as the film unravels thanks to the writer-director Sean Durkin, who won the Best Director award at Sundance in January. As the movie progresses, Durkin slowly reveals through flashbacks the reasons why Martha left the cult. He does a great jobs in creatively editing the film in a way that seamlessly jumps back and forth between the past and present without warning. This movie plays out almost like a real-life horror film because some of the things shown in this movie could possibly happen along with a bold and unnerving ending that ultimately leaves the audience to question on what happens next.

“Martha Marcy May Marlene” is an intense and hypnotic film that marks an impressive feature debut by Durkin along with amazing performances by Olsen and Hawkes to boost.

“Martha Marcy May Marlene”: 3.5 stars out of 4