Martha Marcy May Marlene

Written & Directed by Sean Durkin
FACT Picturehouse
From 3rd February 2012

Reviewed by Colin Serjent

An unusual title of an unusual film. The title derives from the various names given to a young woman, Martha (Elizabeth Olsen), who is a member of a commune located amid the Catskill Mountains, led by the Charles Manson-like figure Patrick, chillingly played by John Hawkes.

After the mentally screwed up Martha escapes from their clutches, she is re-united with her middle-class and middle brow elder sister Lucy (Sarah Paulson), who is on holiday with her equally bland husband Tom (Hugh Dancy) by a tranquil lake in Connecticut.

The film deftly switches from Martha's time at the commune and the present day, ably assisted by top-drawer cinematography by Jody Lee Lipes. This juxtaposition serves to emphasise the almost complete contrast of living in a very small community and residing in the vast 'real world', with all its problems, real and imagined.

Martha increasingly finds it diificult to adjust to what, is to her, an alien world, and her oddball behaviour, such as walking into the bedroom where her sister and spouse are making love, leads to ever increasing conflict with the two of them.

At times you are not sure whether the flashbacks by Martha depicted in the film are actually a true recollection of what happened to her in the time she spent there or whether they are perhaps a figment of her fevered imagination. But this only adds to the multi-layered themes of the picture.

The final sequence is the proverbial icing on the cake of a riveting film.

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