Martha Marcy May Marlene

Martha Marcy May Marlene


This is one of those indie films that has a kind of slow burn intensity that sets your teeth on edge.

It begins in silence as men, then women, separately eat at a table. The silence becomes unbearable as you realise slowly that these young men and women are part of a cult.

But the scene is calm, serene. The women languish, the early scenes almost bucolic.

Martha (Elizabeth Olsen) lives on this “farm” in upstate New York. But nothing is reaped or sown on this farm it seems except the lives of its uncomplaining fragile and abused inhabitants.

Even as Martha leaves quietly in a dawn escape from her “family”, the foreboding begins to permeate every frame. She hides as they look for her, finally able to ring her sister at a nearby payphone to escape.

Martha moves in with her sister Lucy and her husband Ted. At first she is glad to be free but then keeps remembering what happened at the farm.

Slowly, shocking details are revealed in flashback and the true horror of the abuse becomes apparent. Then, as Martha begins to lapse into behaviours she has marked on her from time spent in the presence of Patrick, the cult leader, her mere presence brings problems into Lucy and Ted’s home.

In these scenes the film navigates Martha’s emotional scars and brings into sharp focus the nature of her abuse in Patrick’s hands.

This isn’t a film you watch for entertainment; it is a pagan parable that doesn’t use gimmicky special effects, jump cuts or gore to bring home its salient points about the evil that lurks among us.

Adrian Drayton


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