I saw 'Martha Marcy May Marlene' last week and was extremely disappointed. I had heard some positive buzz about the film (mostly about Elizabeth Olsen's "career making performance"). The film is described as a "psychological thriller" about a girl who escaped a cult - but the film was nowhere near thrilling nor did it involve any kind of thought at all. Here are the problems that I had with the film:
1. The simplicity - I think the biggest mistake of the film is that it simplified the cult by representing it as pure evil. The cult leader (played brilliantly by the perfectly casted John Hawkes) was never given any redeemable qualities whatsover which discredits the idea that living in the cult is appealing to Martha. They never give us Martha's motivation in joining these people except that her mother passed away and that her sister "abondoned" her by going off to college leaving her to live with her aunt. Is her aunt evil? Does her aunt abuse her? I would assume she was living in a bad situation and ran away - this cult being a better option, but I for one was never convinced of this.
2. Martha's inner demons - The plot mostly takes place after Martha has escaped from the cult, living now in "normal" society with her sister (played by the always delightful Sarah Paulson) and her husband (Hugh Dancy). We get a sense of her past cult life through a series of flash backs that lead Martha spiraling into a world of paranoia. This would be a fantastic character study if it was at all believable. My problem exists with the fact that Martha was only missing for 2 years (they never give her age but I am guessing she joined the cult in her late teens - which means she already has a sense of "normal" and can sense what is "right" and "wrong"). I don't think I would have been as frustrated if she had been forced into the cult at a younger age or if she had been in it for much longer.
3. The ending - I ususally love ambiguity in films but it irked me in this film. It attempts at what I can best describe as a Black Swan type feeling where the audience isn't supposed to know what is "real" and what is just part of Martha's "paranoia" but it fails miserably - because in reality I for one never fully understand her paranoia to begin with. The audience that was in my theater didn't seem to appreciate the cut to black ending either.
I will admit that Elizabeth Olsen did a decent job but I think she is just getting credit because it is clearly the best Olsen performance ever. However, she didn't have much to really do except stare blankly and/or look confused. I was more excited by the supporting cast.