Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011)

Martha Marcy May Marlene (MMMM) begins its theatrical run across select theatres in Australia this week but the film has been floating around the festival circuit for well over a year now after debuting at the Sundance Film Festival early last year to some very favourable and warm reception.

I’ve had to hear how good this film was for over a year and was dying to see it. I had an opportunity to see it during the Melbourne International Film Festival some time last year but was late to the party as sessions for the film quickly became full. Yep, it was that popular! Lesson learnt – book in advance and never leave things to the last minute!

Personal anecdote aside, MMMM, written and directed by Sean Durkin, is a disturbing, psychological portrait of a mentally fractured young woman. The film begins with Martha (Elizabeth Olsen – younger sister to her famous twin siblings, Mary-Kate and Ashley) escaping from a cult to seek out her sister, Lucy (Sarah Paulson), for help and shelter. From there, the film takes us on strange journey into Martha’s psychosis as she begins to slowly unravel throughout the film.

Throughout the film, Durkin plays with time and space, cutting between flashbacks of Martha’s two-year engagement with the cult and the present time with Lucy and her husband (Hugh Dancy) at their lake house. The beauty of this is that in doing so, we are given a visual representation of Martha’s psychosis. Durkin suggests that we can never be truly sure whether or not certain things happened to Martha or if they were just all in her made up in her head both in the editing and in his writing. Did some of these things actually happen or did she simply dream it all up? As the audience, we are right in the thick of it, seeing the film unfold in the very same way Martha is experiencing it – disoriented and confused. Is this a bad thing? No. Could it have been edited a bit better to make everything a little bit more cohesive? Sure. But that would lose the point of it all because the editing tells us that Martha is as every bit confused about her memories as we are.

In some ways, MMMM, is somewhat similar to David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive in which repeated viewings would surely provide much more clarity regarding our evaluation of the main character and their circumstances. It doesn’t help that MMMM ends on a very ambiguous note – something that would definitely provoke an immediate response from the viewer – but at the same time the ambiguity does lend itself to providing further characterisation of the complex Martha.

Olsen’s performance, which has been receiving many rave reviews, is one that certainly marks her as a serious contender among Hollywood’s newest crop of young actresses. Martha’s paranoia and anxiousness is played with much bravado yet with such quiet restraint. I look forward to seeing just how career will play out from here on out.

MMMM often feels like a horror movie of a different colour. Unsettling and eerie, this original psychological thriller is sure to turn heads as well as leave them scratching.