Get SF Weekly Newsletters
Pin It

"Martha Marcy May Marlene": Thriller Deftly Portrays Psychological Torment 

Wednesday, Oct 26 2011

As taut and economical as its title is unwieldy, Sean Durkin's Martha Marcy May Marlene is a deft, old-school psychological thriller. The film divides its eponymous protagonist (Elizabeth Olsen) into two personae, each associated with one of the movie's two main locations: a posh new summer cottage on a Connecticut lake and an isolated communal farm in the Catskills where the action opens as docile young farm women put out dinner for their handful of male comrades to eat under the eye of their crafty, hyper-alert leader, Patrick (John Hawkes). This deliberate table setting is dramatically upended when Martha, a baby-faced beauty whom Patrick has renamed Marcy May, wakes up early and takes off into the woods. She makes a fearful call to her married older sister Lucy (Sarah Paulson), establishing contact for the first time in several years, and is soon ensconced in Connecticut comfort. Traumatized Martha would have trouble readjusting even if she weren't so fabulously inappropriate — wondering aloud why they need such a big house, asking if it's true that "married people don't fuck." Lucy blows hot and cold toward her sister — just like Patrick, whom we see in flashback, running his head trips, initiating the drugged, newly renamed Marcy May into his preferred form of sex. Ultimately, Patrick's evil is less haunting than Martha's madness. Olsen gives a superb performance, battling confusion, radiating anxiety, and desperately asserting her beleaguered identity as past and present begin to merge.

About The Author

J. Hoberman


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Popular Stories

  1. Most Popular Stories
  2. Stories You Missed


  • clipping at Brava Theater Sept. 11
    Sub Pop recording artists 'clipping.' brought their brand of noise-driven experimental hip hop to the closing night of 2016's San Francisco Electronic Music Fest this past Sunday. The packed Brava Theater hosted an initially seated crowd that ended the night jumping and dancing against the front of the stage. The trio performed a set focused on their recently released Sci-Fi Horror concept album, 'Splendor & Misery', then delved into their dancier and more aggressive back catalogue, and recent single 'Wriggle'. Opening performances included local experimental electronic duo 'Tujurikkuja' and computer music artist 'Madalyn Merkey.'"