‘Martha Marcy May Marlene’ Review: An Otherwise Excellent Film Nearly Ruined By Its Ending
Films like Martha Marcy May Marlene will leave people with one of two thoughts. The first is that it was incredibly thought provoking and that the ending added to the overall intellect of the film. The second is that it wasn’t enough. I find myself in the later while respecting the former.
Martha Marcy May Marlene is a very disturbing film. Martha (Elizabeth Olsen, younger sister of Mary Kate and Ashley) escapes from a farm house that a cult she is a part of is occupying. She runs to her sisters house to hide. The narrative is laced with flashbacks to Martha’s time with the cult.
For a cast of almost all no-name actors, the acting is pretty fantastic. I expect to see Olsen’s name on the final lists for the Academy Award for best actress. She gives a tender, yet frightened performance that really lets you into the character’s mind. The villain of the piece, played by John Hawkes who was nominated for an Oscar last year for Winter’s Bone gives a fittingly creepy yet reserved performance, allowing him to be truly terrifying in the moments that it counts.
The performances carry the film’s narrative structure. It is shocking seeing how the cult brought Martha in, and how she would eventually turn against them. The tension is built so well in this film that you will not blink during the film’s most intense moments. Also, the way that the flashbacks weave in and out of the present is flawless. There is never a transition that feels poorly edited or out of place. Everything comes together perfectly.
Then we get to the ending. You are sitting on the edge of your seat, everything the film has been building towards is about to take place, then the credits roll. The abrupt ending does not pay respect the rest of an otherwise fantastic film. Some will argue that it leaves it up to your imagination however it is not in the way that Inception leaves you with the top spinning or The Wrestler leaves you questioning the fate of a man who does not take his life into consideration. It just ends, and in a film that has very little happen outside of its flashbacks, that is not a proper payoff. It makes the film feel pointless, and frankly, the ride may not have been worth it.
Yes, the film is excellently constructed and the performances are top notch. However, and ending like that can really kill everything that was great about a film since there is no payoff. Do I recommend it? Absolutely, but be warned, you most likely will walk out wishing for just another five minutes to wrap everything up. (*** out of 4)