Click on the entrance to Fox Searchlight’s new site for Martha Marcy May Marlene and a mist of drifting particles merge and disintegrate in an eerily elusive silhouette. Mouse over the indistinct features of that female face with your cursor to isolate further points of entry for a virtual exploration of the conflicting voices inside her head. It’s an effective interactive metaphor for the journey of discovery the film itself will take. Winner of the Directors Award for Sean Durkin at Sundance this year, Martha Marcy May Marlene puzzling structure is an ideal showcase for Elizabeth Olsen’s range, as her character loses grasp of one reality as she comes to grip with another — both creepy. The official site does a fine job preparing us with clues to help unlock her disturbing mental breakdown and equally troubling reconstruction. IAmaTeacherandaLeader.com
A few more screenshots and impressions of Martha Marcy May Marlene by Slant’s Glenn Heath from Cannes, after the cut.
Martha Marcy May Marlene glides through memories as if they were raindrops evaporating before they hit the ground. Durkin merges crucial flashbacks with Martha’s current attempts to reconcile her past traumas in a “normal” setting. The process becomes constricting and fruitless, finally made impossible by Lucy’s inability to break through Martha’s psychological walls. But the film isn’t about redemption or religious awareness, but the overwhelming reach of manipulation. There isn’t one scene that doesn’t feel seeped in dread, and the devil’s footprints are evident on every charming folk song or promise of love.
Durkin and the very talented cinematographer Jody Lee Lipes establish singular and wrenching moments instead of full on set pieces. The details of a facial expression, the sudden explosion of violence, and the consistency of audio tones are all parts of Patrick’s platform of control. The slow camera movements bare equally measured zooms, closing in on characters until the lull of ambient noise drowns out all indicators of life on the screen. Like Gerardo Naranjo’s equally impressive Miss Bala, Martha Marcy May Marlene is about the domination of female perception. Since Martha herself is still trying to work through what might be nightmare or reality, it’s difficult to understand how pervasive Patrick’s impact has been on her until the final moments of the film. When the story’s long-gestating simmer finally comes to a boil, Durkin holds on his heroine’s face one last time, leaving the viewer with a stone-cold snapshot of pure horror. There will be shivers.