Thursday, November 21, 2013

Film Review: Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011)

Martha Marcy May Marlene (Review)
United States/2011
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No

"...a tedious film without an identity."

After she escapes from a cult, Martha (Elizabeth Olsen) moves in with her sister and her husband. However, Martha begins to suffer from paranoia and delusions...

Martha Marcy May Marlene is advertised as a psychological thriller -- I'll even end up tagging it as such -- but most of the time, it fails to build on such themes. The story is not told in chronological order, often jumping from the past back to the present and back to the past again. Regardless, it's told well and easy enough to follow. However, there isn't much meat to the story -- it severely lacks plot. For most of its runtime, the story fails to use its paranoia and delusion themes. The story can be explained as a vacation for Martha, with an occasional outburst or odd question, but nothing else. The last act of the film features a weak climax, as well as an ambiguous ending -- since the film lacks a plot, how do end the story?

Martha Marcy May Marlene suffers from a lack of identity; do you want to be a psychological thriller or a character study of mental health? Either way, the film fails to deliver. The cult takes too long too develop only to find out it's just another cliché. The characters have many drawn-out conversations, but they don't develop actual character. There is no paranoia, there are only a few (questionable) delusions, there are no thrills, and there is only one scene with actual tension. There is no atmosphere and there is no immersion. This isn't a movie, it's a poor man's attempt at arthouse. (note: I've thoroughly enjoyed many arthouse films like Bullhead and Only God Forgives.)

On the technical side, I like the cast. Elizabeth Olsen is impressive with a very interesting and engaging performance, occasionally embodying a truly delusional character. The editing is great, I like the seamless transitions between flashbacks. The music also fits the themes of the film well. However, the writing is boring and lifeless, and, again, the direction tries way too hard to create "art" -- the long, tedious shots and boring back-and-forth conversations between characters are completely unnecessary for the plot -- well, if there were a plot to begin with.

Overall, Martha Marcy May Marlene is a tedious film without an identity. The film fails to evoke any emotions in its characters and the audience. The performances are great and its technically exceptional, but it lacks a plot, so it just goes to waste. I do not recommend the film.

Score: 3/10
Parental Guide: Some violence, sex, and nudity.

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