Movie Review: Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011)

Martha Marcy May Marlene (dir. Sean Durkin, 2011) – After fleeing from her life as Marcy May in an abusive cult, Martha struggles to fit back into society.


Elizabeth Olsen’s emotive performance leads a thematically disturbing and thoroughly compelling character study in Martha Marcy May Marlene.



After disappearing for two years, Martha (Elizabeth Olsen) resurfaces without explanation. The troubled youth tries to re-assimilate into her sister’s family, but distrust and returning memories threaten to tear her new life apart.

Each second goes by with nervous rhythm in psychological drama Martha Marcy May Marlene. The walls Martha builds around her fall brick by brick. Gradually unveiled, her disturbing past clouds her present reality and induces her in a constant state of paranoia.

It is an unsettling, intimate watch that grips for the most part. In an impressive directorial debut, writer-director Sean Durkin proves utmost skill in building atmospheric unease parallel to Martha’s unstable mental state.

Superb cinematography deserves a mention. Even so, the initial focus begins to meander through its slow-moving events. A flawed screenplay sees character development falter at mid point, which sees emotional impact diminished.

It is a strong magnificent lead who brings empathy to an otherwise empty character. Actress Elizabeth Olsen portrays her traumatic history with heartfelt credibility, reeling us into her dark world. Her moving performance lingers. The resultant haunting mood never once lifts, depicting her crumbling psyche up to an abrupt, open end.

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