Martha (Elizabeth Olsen) is a young girl who has just spent two years in a cult run by Patrick (John Hawkes). Here she is known as Marcy May (Marlene when she answers the phone) and is regularly sexually abused. When she finally plucks up the courage to leave she runs back to her sister, Lucy (Sarah Paulson) and brother-in-law, Ted (Hugh Dancy), but as she doesn’t tell them what she has just been through they are at a loss to her strange behaviour.
It is obvious that screenwriter/director Sean Durkin was absent from film school on the day his screenwriting teacher covered how to write a good ending to a film because his feature debut, Martha Marcy May Marlene has one of the laziest endings to a film I have ever seen… a shame considering at times it was actually a good watch.
Martha Marcy May Marlene had the power to be one of the best films of 2011 but it is sadly let down by Durkin. The film never reaches its full potential even though the set-up is there. As an audience you feel deeply for Martha and the topic of seeing how a cult can affect one is something that should make people emotional, but sadly Durkin loses control of his film. At times the dialogue between Lucy and Martha just feels awkward and it seems Durkin manages to sap every inch of drama from scenes that should have been memorable. However, what he does with the ending is truly unforgivable, I won’t give too much away but I can guarantee you that you will walk out of the cinema feeling disappointed and cheated.
The big saving grace of this film is the performance by Elizabeth Olsen. She is virtually a newcomer yet puts in a performance that any Oscar winner would be more than happy with, it’s just sad that she is let down by the script that she has to work with. Equally good is John Hawkes who puts in a remarkable performance as the ‘evil’ yet sometimes-charming, Patrick. If it weren’t for the acting performances of Olsen and Hawkes than this film would have been in real trouble.
Martha Marcy May Marlene is very much a film that ‘could have been’. What should have been one of the films of the years is let down by lazy writing. Worth a look but be prepared for an ending that will leave you disappointed.
Director: Sean Durkin
Stars: Elizabeth Olsen, Hugh Dancy, John Hawkes
Running time: 102 mins
Release Date: 28th May 2012