Friday, 20 April 2012

Martha Marcy May Marlene, Sean Durkin, US 2011

Martha Marcy May Marlene is an off-beat psychological thriller revolving around a young woman, Martha, who, at the beginning of the film, we see fleeing from what looks like some Arcadian commune up in the Catskill Mountains.

She gets picked up by what we learn is her sister, Lucy, who is much older than Martha. Through their mutual conversations, we learn that both sisters share a difficult past, culminating in the death of their mother and with Lucy being older, she is riddled by feelings of guilt for not having looked after Martha the way she feels she should have.

This may be the reason why Martha was such easy prey for the Arcadian commune which, as it is revealed through Martha's dreams and nightmares that simultaneously serve as flashbacks for the viewer, is not Arcadian at all, but rather a cult not dissimilar to the Manson Family.

It was, however, during her stay with the cult that Martha was given the name Marcy May, for its leader, Patrick, thought that this is how she looks, a Marcy May. Though initially Martha feels quite at home in the group and has an easy time settling in, incidents of pointless, random, violence instigated by Patrick, put her off, eventually causing her to flee.

Yet, the group has nevertheless left its mark on Martha for apart from being haunted by nightmares, she also has considerable trouble adjusting to the life as led by Lucy and her husband, two upwardly mobile, moneyed, New Yorkers with a sprawling weekend getaway in Connecticut, which is were the better part of the film is set.

Haunted, revolted by her life with the cult, yet at the same time strangely drawn to it, one day Martha calls the group without disclosing her identity. The phone is answered with Marlene Lewis, and it is through a later flashback that it becomes clear that this is the codename used by all women from the cult in order to protect their identity.

As Martha acts increasingly strange, if not to say, violent, towards her sister and her husband, they decide to seek professional help. Surprisingly, Martha agrees. However, as they're driving off the next day to the institution Lucy and her husband selected, it seems that a car is following them. And with Martha continuously looking back, it is suggested that it may be Patrick or another cult member who's tailing them. If so, their intentions are equally up in the open. Whether they may just abduct Martha or whether they may kill Lucy and her husband just as cold bloodedly the way we saw them killing a random man earlier in the film, is up to the viewer to decide or imagine. With its slow, subtle, build-up, the film as a whole is rather disturbing, reaching its climax, as it were, in this unsettling ending.

Martha Marcy May Marlene is not your ordinary, run-of-the-mill, psycho thriller, which is why it's one of the better ones I've seen in recent years. Durkin understands the mechanisms of what scares us to a 't'. The answer is as simple as it is ingenious: that, which we don't know. It's the old fear of the unknown. Film and real life are very much alike in that respect.

Consequently, Durkin sends us home guessing about certain twists and turns in his film - to say noting of its ending! It is precisely because he's left so many questions unanswered, and the fact that we have to piece parts of the film together in our minds that we're left with a feeling of unease and trepidation.

And what more can you expect from a psychological thriller?