June 13, 2012

Justify My Netflix: Martha Marcy May Marlene

(Like many Netflix customers, I too can get quite lax with the timely watching and returning of my movies, which of course defeats the entire purpose of having a flat-rate rental plan in the first place. To combat that, I am now writing standardized mini-reviews of each and every movie I end up watching through Netflix, both instantly and on DVD. Don't forget, all previous 'Justify My Netflix' reviews can be found on CCLaP's main movie page.)

Martha Marcy May Marlene

Today's movie: Martha Marcy May Marlene, 2011 (Amazon | IMDB | Netflix | Wikipedia)

Why I added it to my queue: Because I heard great things about this no-budget character drama when it was first in theaters: the debut of Elizabeth Olsen (sister to Mary-Kate and Ashley and a much better actor), it tells the tale of a young willful girl who has just run away from a Manson-Family-type cult (her time with them shown entirely as chronological flashbacks so to increase the mystery of why she left), and the PTSD after-effects she deals with while recuperating at her estranged sister's upper-class lakeside home in upstate New York.

The reality: Oh, man, this thing crawled right under my skin and wouldn't get out again! And that's for a number of good reasons, deliberate decisions that writer/director Sean Durkin made for the movie's better; for example, not having her family know she's even been in a cult for the last several years, which would at least explain to them some of the bizarre, sexually tinged behavior she displays when back at her sister's and trying to get over it all, with her family instead thinking that this headstrong black sheep had merely been off in some small town living like a slacker with a bunch of hippies, which is kind of the truth. And speaking of which, that's another great decision that Durkin made, to sort of lead us step by step, very methodically and slowly, through the complicated process that would turn a group of hippies out on some rural farmstead in upper New York into a legitimate Manson-Family cult of house burglars, murderers and sexual freaks, under the tutelage of the absolutely astonishing John Hawkes in the Charles Manson role, who most will know mainly as the genial Jewish frontier businessman Sol Star in Deadwood (or perhaps in his Oscar-nominated role as a meth addict in Winter's Bone), but here just breathtakingly good as the simultaneously creepy, charming and dangerous David Koresh-type who initiates his own little personal Waco. And with all of this done using as small and quiet a voice as possible, deploying the most subtle of scripts and the whole thing filmed with what seems like a series of warm Instagram retro filters, this deeply disturbing and pitch-black psychological thriller is also a great example of the absolute most impressive things that young filmmakers are doing these days with digital tech and smart enhancements, to make no-budget indies that can visually compete with Hollywood blockbusters. One of the most haunting and memorable films you will see this year, it comes with some legitimate caution -- its depiction of brainwashing via forced intimate sex tied to religion-worthy ritualization is not so much explicit as it is extremely mentally disturbing -- but is one of the most rewarding small films of the last year for those who have the stomach to get through its most emotionally squeamish parts. It comes strongly recommended to one and all.

Strangest piece of trivia: The lead role of this movie was the only one for which auditions were held; Olsen finally won the part less than two weeks before shooting began.

Worth your time? Absolutely

Filed by Jason Pettus at 7:03 PM, June 13, 2012. Filed under: Movies | Reviews |