Martha Marcy May Marlene


Have you ever watched a movie and thought “I really don’t like this movie, but it’s good and I can’t stop watching, so maybe I do like it?” That film is Martha Marcy May Marlene and that’s exactly how writer/director Sean Durkin wants you to feel.



Martha (Elizabeth Olsen) flees an abusive cult to live with her sister (Sarah Paulson) and her brother-in-law (Hugh Dancy). As she struggles to assimilate to daily life outside the cult, Martha is bothered by lingering memories and the paranoid fear that the cult and its leader Patrick (John Hawkes) are coming to get her.

Paranoia and uncertainty are the names of the game for MMMM. From the very beginning you can feel the tension emanating from Martha’s actions. The scenery and musical accompaniments do not aid your beating heart, as nothing is more sinister when someone is chasing you than a glass house in the middle of the woods coupled with dissonant tones.

Martha Marcy May Marlene - Elizabeth Olsen and Sarah Paulson

The film plays out in a series of flashbacks and small vignettes giving you a sense of what caused Martha to seek out the cult, what caused her to leave, and what is preventing her from adapting to normal life. This may seem like a lot to process at once, but the dialog is very informative throughout, so each scene provides ample knowledge to understand Martha’s mindset at the different stages of this two to three year period. The scenes within the cult are the most unsettling, but possibly the best.

When I say unsettling, I am really saying that cults scare the sh*t out of me now. For some odd reason I like John Hawkes. If there ever is a live version of The Simpsons he better be cast as Cletus. For MMMM’s purposes, he is utterly chilling. Patrick is the suave, persuasive older figure that convinces these young women to stay in the cult and abide by his guidelines because life on the outside is twisted and backwards. Since we all know cults to be real and active parts of society, it is more frightening to see how easy it is to manipulate someone that is emotionally vulnerable, and how once the trust is formed, breaking that bond is nearly impossible.

The one frustrating part of the film, apart from having no idea what is going to happen, is Martha’s life with her sister and her husband. We learn what ultimately led to Martha joining the cult—abandonment— and we see where this stems from, as Lucy (Paulson) is a somewhat terrible sister. She may care about her younger sister and want to help her, but Lucy’s strength of character is put into question very quickly since her patience with Martha runs out incredibly fast even though it is obvious something deeply traumatic occurred.


MMMM is a tough movie. It’s psychologically disturbing. Yet, you simply cannot look away. Maybe this simulates the undeniable allure of a cult for some individuals. In which case, well played, Mr. Durkin. Olsen is a great cast for the role of Martha, as well. It’s a startling role to begin your career with, but she certainly finds a way to make it work.

You won’t want to like it, and you’ll probably hate the ending at first. But just wait, some time within 24 hours after watching it, you’ll think, “Wait, what? No. Well, maybe.” MMMM is subtle and infiltrates your psyche in frightening ways, and you will be drawn to it until the very end.

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