Martha Marcy May Marlene - DVD Review

'During dangerous ebbs from Durkin, he goes as far as to suggest that some of the reasons for Martha's awkward attempts at assimilation are to do with feelings of society's restrictions where before, despite the detailed ordeals we see her put through, she was free.'

The insidious and occasionally deeply disturbing Martha Marcy May Marlene (MMMM) is a triumph of clever, dangerous and original cinema, a film unafraid to leave the audience to make their own decisions and clever enough to invoke the ambiguity to encourage them to do so. Sean Durkin's first feature, produced with the help and guidance of the Sundance Institute, is an occasionally terrifying examination of a fractured id and a theoretical look at memory and the influence of past events.

At the centre of all this spins Martha (Elizabeth Olsen) newly arrived in the lives of her sister (Sarah Paulson) and brother-in-law (Hugh Dancy). All three struggle to relate to each other as Martha flashes back to a previous life. During dangerous ebbs from Durkin, he goes as far as to suggest that some of the reasons for Martha's awkward attempts at assimilation are to do with feelings of society's restrictions where before, despite the detailed ordeals we see her put through, she was free. 'Can I swim?', she asks Ted (Dancy). In her previous life, the question wouldn't have been needed.

This sits uncomfortably with the very ordeals Martha has come through, ordeals which make MMMM a purposefully difficult watch. Furtive glances from her new bedroom window suggest that something may be coming for our heroine, lending the film more than an air of a Horror (indeed, it is a Horror in more ways than it is not), the feeling of being chased culminating in a memorably uncomfortable scene when Martha walks in to sleep on Ted and Lucy's (Paulson) bed. Does she do so because she has been brainwashed of society's conventions or out of pure fear for what may be outside her window? A bit of both, Durkin leads the viewer to believe.

Olsen, Paulson and Dancy turn in humanised, stunning, performances, in what is, for half of the runtime, a three-hander. Dancy in particular has a pivotal role, externalising our frustrations with Martha but simultaneously attempting sympathy, partially for the sake of Lucy. In the other half of proceedings John Hawkes takes his Winter's Bone performance and imbues it with the creeping dread of a clever sexual predator, stalking the screen with too-smooth malice and a heightened sense of human manipulation.

Durkin's film eventually climaxes in, inevitably, ambiguity but remains strong because and despite of that fact. Olsen's arrival as a bright new talent is already solidified half way through but her staggering performance over the final scenes rams home a near-perfect offering, a rare embracement of open-narrative cinema from a first time director.



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