Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011) 
Blu-ray Drama
Written by Noah Fleming   
Thursday, 23 February 2012

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“Martha Marcy May Marlene” is an oddly intimate and disturbing look at the life of young, beautiful woman who becomes lost in a religious cult somewhere in the Catskills.  It is intriguing, but drifts around quite a bit throughout the runtime.

I will warn you now.  If you have no interest in independent films or films that don’t come right out with a predictable plot, then this is not the film for you.  “MMMM” is as downright independent and deep-thought provoking as a film gets.  And unfortunately, many of the viewers out there won’t understand it one bit.  In all honesty, I don’t think I fully understood the film.  However, I applaud the film for its refreshing cast and originality.

Elizabeth Olsen makes here big debut in this Durkin film.  And I must say, that without a doubt, she is the key to this films success.  This is a breakout performance that will have her stepping out of the shadows of her more familiar older twin sisters.  She plays her role with uncertainty and yet strength.  She is confused but also certain.  She is fragile but dominant.  This film is worth the watch just for her performance.  Hawkes also does a brilliant job as a charismatic cult leader.

Martha (Olsen) disappears from her family for years, living in a cult.  We watch as she moves through the ranks of the cult, but always remaining a slave.  As the women in this cult as treated as sexual objects and caretakers, Martha finds her will weakening over time.  When the film opens we find that Martha is running away from the cult.  As a viewer we are uncertain of the direction this film is taking.  It soon becomes evident that this film is going to take a cyclic approach to storytelling.  We bounce back and forth between Martha and her time in the cult and Martha reunited with her sister.

Each time we revisit the cult the story grows clearer but foggier at the same time.  Eventually we learn of Martha’s reason for leaving the cult.  However, where many films use the turn as point in which the lead character, in this case Martha snaps back to reality, “MMMM” leaves us with a broken character that can’t grasp what is real and what is normal.  At point we watch as Martha walks into her sister’s bedroom at night and curls up on the end of the bed while her sister and husband are making love.  This was the norm for two years in the cult.  Come the end of the film we are left with uncertainty and a lack of our own grasp on reality.

The video quality of this Blu-ray release is as good as it is supposed to be.  For reference quality viewers this is going to be terrible.  However, you must know that this film was heavily tinkered in post-production.  Most notable, the black levels are beyond weak.  They have been lightened to the point of murky grays.  This is bothersome if you can’t put yourself in the minds of the filmmakers.  Nevertheless, the contrast is still a bit weaker than should be.  The colors have been washed in the post, but they are still nicely saturated.  The sharpness of the video has been washed in post as well.  Regardless, I doubt that this film was very sharp to begin with.  All in all, this is an accurate Blu-ray release but hardly pleasing compared to major blockbusters.

The audio quality is fairly lackluster.  Again, the audio follows the tone of the film.  There is essentially no LFE channel.  The surround channels are generally passive, delivering tonal music to provide envelopment.  The dialogue is strong when necessary.  There are some interesting sound design choices.  Or perhaps it is just a way of cutting back on the budget.  In any event, the audio suits the film just fine.

The Blu-ray comes with a fairly light supplemental features package.  “Mary Last Seen” is a short film introducing us to what might have happened before the film starts.  “The Story” provides a short synopsis of the film.  “Spotlight On Elizabeth Olsen” is a brief interview with the actress.  “A Conversation With The Filmmakers” is another less than five-minute featurette discussing the production.  “The Making of ‘MMMM’” is a typical piece.  “The Psyche Of A Cult” is a look at a cult’s structure.  “Marcy’s Song” is a music video of Hawkes performing the song in a studio.  The package also includes a trailer.  Overall, fairly empty.

“Martha Marcy May Marlene” is definitely an artist’s film.  However, I believe that it will find an audience with movie lovers.  The audio and video qualities are accurate for the film but hardly “Blu-ray” impressive.  I recommend this to those that have any interest in non-blockbuster features.
Studio 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
MPAA Rating R
Starring Elizabeth Olsen, Sarah Paulson, Hugh Dancy, John Hawkes, Brady Corbet, Louisa Krouse
Director Sean Durkin
Film Release Year 2011
Release Year 2012
Resolution(s) 1080p (main feature) • 1080p (supplements)
Aspect Ratio 2.40:1
Running Time 1 hr. 42 mins.
Sound Formats English DTS-HD Master 5.1 • French Dolby Digital 5.1 • Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1
Subtitles English SDH • Spanish
Special Features “Mary Last Scene”; “Spotlight On Elizabeth Olsen”; “A Conversation With The Filmmakers”; “The Story”; “The Making Of”; “The Psyche Of A Cult”; “Marcy’s Song” Music Video”; Trailer
Forum Link
Reviewer Noah Fleming

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