DVD Review: Martha Marcy May Marlene

Martha Marcy May Marlene DVDSTUDIO: Fox | DIRECTOR: Sean Durkin | CAST: Elizabeth Olsen, Sarah Paulson , Hugh Dancy, John Hawkes
BLU-RAY & DVD RELEASE DATE: 2/21/2012 | PRICE: DVD $29.98, Blu-ray $39.99
BONUSES: short film; BD adds featurettes, conversation with filmmakers, music video, more
SPECS: R | 102 min. | Drama thriller | 2.40:1 widescreen | Dolby Digital 5.1/DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 | English and Spanish subtitles

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie  | Audio  | Video  | Overall

Marking an impressive debut for writer-director Sean Durkin, Martha Marcy May Marlene is haunting drama-thriller about the realities of living in a cult.

Martha Marcy May Marlene

Sarah Paulson (r.) attempts to unwind Elizabeth Olsen in Martha Marcy May Marlene.

Elizabeth Olsen (Silent House), sister of Mary-Kate and Ashley, turns in a mesmerizing performance as Marcy May, a young woman who has recently fled from a cultish sect based in upstate New York led by the charismatic but dangerously manipulative Patrick (John Hawkes, Contagion). While trying to adjust to living with her older sister Lucy (Sarah Paulson, TV’s Studio 60 On the Sunset Strip) and her architect husband Ted (Hugh Dancy, Confessions of a Shopaholic) at their vacation home, Marcy has visions of what her life was like with Patrick and his followers and wonders whether they are nearby, planning to force her back into living with them.

Durkin’s approach of slowly building tension by shifting time backwards and forwards and leaving out large chunks of the lead characters’ back-stories heightens the story’s inherent creepiness. The quietness of the proceedings plays off these and makes the time shifts jarring, leaving the audience off-kilter and trying to figure out at exactly when certain incidents have occured in Marcy’s life.

Olsen has received fine notices for her tour-de-force efforts—alas, no Academy Award nomination—and she is aided by fine support from all around her, particularly Hawkes, who was so menacing in last year’s Winter’s Bone. Eliciting such fine performances, dealing with the subtle time transitions and handling such intimate, disturbing material is a challenge for even the most seasoned filmmakers, which makes Durkin’s efforts here even more impressive.

While the Blu-ray edition of MMMM is outfitted with a bunch of supplemental featurettes and interviews, the only bonus on the DVD is Durkin’s 2010 short Mary Last Seen. A prequel to MMMM that Durkin made after financing issues delayed the production of his  feature-length project, Mary Last Seen is a similarly creepy piece that looks at the abduction of a young girl by a cult. The film was well-received at festivals, winning Best Short at the Directors’ Fortnight at Cannes and thus jump-starting production on MMMM.


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About Irv

Irv Slifkin has been reviewing movies since before he got kicked off of his high school radio station for panning The Towering Inferno in 1974. He has written the books VideoHound’s Groovy Movies: Far-Out Films of the Psychedelic Era and Filmadelphia: A Celebration of a City’s Movies, and has contributed film reportage and reviews to such outlets as Entertainment Weekly, The Hollywood Reporter, Video Business magazine and National Public Radio.