Wednesday, 15 August 2012
Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011) is the story of a girl's escape from a manipulative and sadistic cult. The plot is weaved between the parrallels of the past and the present and projected through a paranoid haze of jump-cuts and match cuts that nod their confident heads in the direction of Roeg and Kubrick.
As Martha's present & past play out simultaniously, the insidious effects of the latter become more apparent. Seeking refuge with her sister Lucy (Sarah Paulson) and her partner Ted (Hugh Dancy) Martha's idiosynchrasies immediately become cause for concern. An innocent swim in the residential lake sees the protagonist removing all of her clothes without a shred of restraint before being consumed by the landscape. Her hysterical sister's reaction is about as comedic as the film gets.
Elizabeth Olsen, in an outstanding debut performance as Martha, is reminiscent of a young Stacey Spaceck, wide eyed innocence stained with an evergrowing inauspicious blot. She handles the role with subtlety, yet offers enough distinction in her performance that she alone can define the parallels. As the plot unfolds the cause behind her unusual beahaviour is revealed.
Cult leader Patrick, played with Mansonesque charisma by the brilliantly versatile John Hawkes, masks the demon initially with compassion and humanity. Only as the camera captures the intesity of his gaze, as he spies upon his orchestrated orgy of young bodies, is his his true character exposed. The once kindly faceade melts leaving behind the true face of the monster from which Martha rightfully flees.
Director Sean Dirkin's influences clearly lie with the afformentioned Nicolas Roeg and Stanley Kubrik. The film's aesthetic has the overall soft sheen of Terence Malick's Badlands (1973) but with tall overbearing trees for added claustrophobia. MMMM is a study of paranoid reconnaisance and the knock on effects of brainwashing or "rebirth" as it's known within the cult. The paranoia is intelligently effectual, the longer you view, the further it seeps beneath your skin where it remains long after the credits roll. The more you learn, the more questions arise and the more you ask, the greater the ambiguity of it all and this is Dirkin's greatest trick. Martha, she leaves you abruptly, but she will stay with you forever.