Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Martha Marcy May Marlene (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Martha Marcy May Marlene

If you found the psychological  thriller  "Black Swan" to be too fanciful, but still enjoy a genuine Polanski-patterned film then "Martha Marcy May Marlene" is a must see. The film slips with a slow intensity. The very images appear coated with a foggy emulsion as one scene blends into another along with geometric shapes and slanting shadows. Memories are not to be trusted.

Elizabeth Olsen stars as Martha, a woman that has somehow entrenched herself into a cult and has disappeared for two plus years. We are not sure why she got mixed up in the cult and it doesn't really matter. We can deduce what happened. All it took was one look at Patrick (John Hawkes) and there she went.

Patrick as the leader of the group has piercing eyes and its a given that he makes you feel as if you're the only one. He is part Manson and part generic bohemian. The most disturbing thing about Patrick is that in many scenes he is off by himself, reading, sleeping, or doing chores. Like Manson, he is the orchestrater not the participant. Insidiously, he blends in to the every day.

Although Patrick is no dramatic stretch for Hawkes who has done similar eerie outings in "Winter's Bone" and "Higher Ground", one sight of him at the guitar, performed without Gothicism or melodrama is enough to haunt you for weeks.

"Martha Marcy May Marlene" is so jolting because it is told plainly without any of the usual dramatic "oh no here he comes!" moments or sudden scares. The sight of a young girl in a white robe is just as scary as anything dreamed up by Wes Craven. 

The magnet of this film is not just Hawkes, but Elizabeth Olsen as a woman who can't make sense of the world, especially as its represented by her sister Lucy  (Sarah Paulson) and her husband Ted (Hugh Dancy). Not since Mia Farrow in "Rosemary's Baby" have we seen such a young woman in heartbreak as she tries to make something horrible into an event that she can handle with a breezy smile. The sight of Olsen in the lake is nerve wracking . Despite the open water, the lake could well be a carnivorous closet. Claustrophobia abounds.

The magic of the film is that it makes it appear that Martha's sister and her career-obsessed husband are just as controlling as Martha's cult family. 

"Martha Marcy May Marlene" works  because it shows cults for what they are, rather than what Hollywood  makes them appear to be. There are no hyper-real boogeymen here or no supernatural woodsmen that are larger than life. Sadly, life itself is sometimes enough.

Write Ian at redtv_2005@yahoo.com

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