Film Review – Martha Marcy May Marlene

One of the darlings of last year’s festival season, this was expected to be in for a lot of Oscar attention. It wasn’t to be. Elizabeth Olsen (sister to the famous twins) certainly gives a phenomenal performance, and was robbed of an actress nomination. However, it ultimately the film itself that has let her down.

The film is a partial success as a horror/thriller, as it features one or two genuinely uncomfortable moments, and an overwhelming sense of a bleak paranoia. Unfortunately its randomly sporadic storytelling seems to serve no purpose. We see Martha being found, we see her, traumatised, attempting to get back to a normal life, and we see her controlled life as part of an isolated group. But no context is given. We get no revelations, no history, no idea how or why she ended up in this situation, or even who or what this group are. To call them a cult is to be more generous than the film-makers were.

The biggest slap in the face of all comes at the end, as the story is simply abandoned, Coen-brothers-style, and the credits roll. No conclusion, no third act, no closure, no cliffhanger. You could pretty much walk out at any point and have the same cinematic experience. It didn’t give me something to think about, other than being cheated.

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