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Elizabeth Olsen, Christopher Abbott, Brady Corbet, Hugh Dancy, Maria Dizzia ... see more see more... , Julia Garner , John Hawkes , Louisa Krause , Sarah Paulson , Adam Thompson , Lauren Molina , Tobias Segal , Louisa Braden Johnson , Gregg Burton , Allen McCullough

Martha Marcy May Marlene is a powerful psychological thriller starring Elizabeth Olsen as Martha, a young woman rapidly unraveling amidst her attempt to reclaim a normal life after fleeing from a cult... read more read more... and its charismatic leader (John Hawkes). Seeking help from her estranged older sister Lucy (Sarah Paulson) and brother-in-law (Hugh Dancy), Martha is unable and unwilling to reveal the truth about her disappearance. When her memories trigger a chilling paranoia that her former cult could still be pursuing her, the line between Martha's reality and delusion begins to blur. -- (C) Fox Searchlight

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71% liked it

17,980 ratings


90% liked it

193 critics

DVD Release Date: February 21, 2012

Stats: 1,866 reviews

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Flixster Reviews (1,866)

  • fb573414556
    December 4, 2013
    Elizabeth Olsen makes her cinematic debut in Sean Durkin's 'Martha Marcy May Marlene', a psychological thriller about life after escaping (?) a cult and the paranoia that accompanies it.

    MMMM is an accomplishment of atmospheric filmmaking, with first-time director Durkin managi... read moreng to shroud every moment of regular life with a sense of unease and brooding tension that usually wouldn't be there. Some shots last for what feels like an eternity whilst others pass within seconds, some moments you think you see something whilst in others you feel it, you never know what is -or isn't- coming and its gripping.

    The editing also adds to the sense of unease within the film, flitting between protagonist Martha's life at the cult and her current one without a moments notice. Everything within the way the film is made feels like it's out to get you, and, much like Martha, you don't know if it is or not.

    As far as performances are concerned Olsen does an outstanding job, playing Martha with a sense of subtlety and fragility that is skill-wise unmatched by the rest of the cast. John Hawkes also does a great job as the cult's charismatic leader, blurring the line between kindness and cruelness in an always-interesting fashion. Perhaps the film's only flaw is the way some of its characters react, with Martha's sister and brother in-law in particular coming off occasionally as so plundering its silly.

    Verdict: A great debut for both its star and director, Martha Marcy May Marlene is an intense ride.
  • April 5, 2013
    Really impressed with Elizabeth Olsen. Has been great in everything I've seen her in.
    I would like to watch this movie again before I review it properly as it is quite complex and I didn't know what it was about initially. Quite compelling viewing about the effects of a cult.
  • September 25, 2012
    The log line says this film is about attempting to re-integrate a cult survivor into a family, and it is, but I thought that was only one aspect of the plot; almost more interesting was the far-reaching impact of sexual exploitation at a young age, and the way that the film lays ... read morebare just how many of our practices, rituals and social norms are based on a presumed common understanding of sexual mores. The standout scene for me is when Martha goes swimming upon returning to her sister's house, and unblinkingly strips naked before she jumps in. It's kind of like when a film gives you the ending first - you have to ask, "So how did you get to this point?" It's a particular kind of disruption, and something not commonly seen in mainstream film. Fairly well acted, particularly by that other Olsen sister, and though slow in places, a compelling watch.
  • September 12, 2012
    Complex story that takes a little bit of concentration to realize it's not made like other movies. People who are complaining about there being no ending aren't watching the movie close enough. I have to admit, it didn't hit me right away either. I kept wondering where the name M... read morearlene actually came about...then I remembered her answering the phone with that name..then it dawned on me that the end isn't really the end. And I don't think things turned out well for her real family....Quite a clever twist, in my opinion.
  • August 24, 2012
    An enthralling story that lingers in the mind long after the end credits have rolled.
  • August 13, 2012
    Beautifully filmed and pretty well acted too, Elizabeth Olsen being particularly good in the lead role. Unfortunately it lacks real substance. More often than not a film can say so much more by saying very little and in turn it lets the audience decide on certain issues but with ... read moreMartha Marcy May Marlene this isn't the case. At times Martha Marcy May Marlene is excruciatingly frustrating and not always particularly convincing. There is an heir of naivety to the film as a whole, it's pseudo-psychology is a little embarrassing at times too but all that said I did enjoy it but mainly for the performances and the cinematography.
  • July 30, 2012
    my wife said that the scenes at the ranch didnt justify martha's later behavior. ive thought a lot about whether or not that's true, but that's the beauty of this film - it makes you think. the acting is wonderful and the imagery intentional. the music is also a plus. overall... read more i thought this was one of the most well made and well shot films of the year, and a rewatch is in order to see if the script builds parallels well enough.
  • May 22, 2012
    Directed (and written) by Sean Durkin, Fox Searchlight Pictures, 2011. Starring Elizabeth Olsen, Sarah Paulson, Hugh Dancy and John Hawkes.

    Genre: Drama, Thriller.

    Question: What happens to you if you were abandoned as a child, end up not having a proper upbringing, and in ... read moresearch of wanting someone to love you and take care of you? That's easy - you're vulnerable and easy prey for those who like to manipulate and control others. Martha Marcy May Marlene explores one woman's experience in a manipulative and abusive cult-like "family" after she escapes and tries to have a real family member help her.

    Martha Marcy May Marlene is not an easy movie to watch/experience, that is not to say it is a bad movie - quite the contrary. However, there were scenes that were hard to watch especially when the manipulation and abuse are depicted on screen. It is a poignant film that displays pure, raw emotions. Most of the credit should go to the lead actress: Elizabeth Olsen. She was spectacular!

    I was blown-away by her skill to draw you into her mental decline as she recalled the good, the bad and the horror of her past with the group. Her eyes and facial expressions during certain moments of silence were just as powerful at displaying the intensity of the moment as compared to when she is being physically violated or having a full blown paranoia attack. All these scenes leave you drained.

    This is a slow film but a thought-provoking piece that will leave you wondering if characters or story-lines were real or imaginary. As I was watching this film, which I enjoyed, I kept recalling another movie I saw nearly a decade ago: Swimming Pool. It had the same feel as that drama/thriller.

    A couple other actors should have a mention or two. Hugh Dancy, who usually plays the sweet, British male lead character in his films definitely played against type. It was refreshing. I almost didn't recognize him because of it. Another actor whose name you won't recognize, John Hawkes, but you should recall his face, played the leader of the cult. His portrayal was seductive, charming and scarily real - you could almost feel why someone girls would allow him to control them. Shivers. He should receive some sort of decent acknowledgement for his performance.

    I don't want to tell you any more about Martha Marcy May Marlene - like why it is called that or any other details of the plot because it is a thriller except to say I really enjoyed the cinematography in this film. There were extreme close-ups, that were almost disconcerting, when two people were conversing, but I understood what the filmmakers were trying to communicate. I am not going to tell you what I think - nope. This film asks questions and lets you answer them which is my favorite kind of story. I so enjoy when something isn't shoved down my throat and I am allowed to come up with my own conclusions.

    One last part that I have to share: the editing and the dialogue. It was simply brilliant. The story goes back and forth from her present day to flashbacks of when she was with the cult. The editor chose perfect aspects of editing to make you wonder if it was a dream or if it was real in order to let your emotions sink you in deeper into the tale. Also, there was some profound dialogue that left me almost breathless. That is all I am going to say about that.

    As you may have figured out, Martha Marcy May Marlene may not be a film for everyone; but if you enjoy good storytelling that is off-beat and filled with meandering emotions then this one is for you.

    My favorite part: Having a film that lets it's audience think for themselves.

    My least favorite: The abuse portrayed in this film.

    Rating: R
    Length: 102 minutes

    Review: 7 out of 10
  • May 14, 2012
    "I am a teacher and a leader."

    Haunted by painful memories and increasing paranoia, a damaged woman struggles to re-assimilate with her family after fleeing an abusive cult.


    Martha (Ols... read moreen) is a traumatised young woman who runs away from a cult in upstate New York. She calls the only person she can, her sister Lucy (Sarah Paulson). She stays with Lucy and her husband Ted (Hugh Dancy) in their country retreat in Connecticut. But Martha struggles to adapt, her behaviour is socially unacceptable and Lucy struggles to help her sister. At the same time Martha has memories of her time at the cult and soon her memories and reality start to mix together. Like everyone else the best feature of Martha Marcy May Marlene is the acting from the whole cast. Olsen and co. gave very natural, believable performances which were enhanced by Durkin's script and his minimalist direction, helping enhance their performances. But Durkin's directional is not simply a point the camera and shoot, it is simply a more subtle approach showing the world as it is, a potential dark place where horrible things can happen. There is a deliberately restrained style as Durkin uses one take shots and as set pieces are simply seen like that, whether using a static camera or hand-held cameras.

    It was easy to believe Martha's psychological torment as she struggles to adapt back into society and plagued by her memories. There is excellent editing, making a well crafted story as we see both narratives, seeing the horrible dark elements of the cult which involving drugging, rape, violence, stealing and murder. Olsen and Paulson had a great relationship together, both acting like sisters, both having their own problems, as Lucy is unable to help her sister and both becoming resentful towards each other. It was handled in a believable manner, but the domestic situation and the eerily calm within the cult, being like the Manson family lite. There were moments where Martha Marcy May Marlene does occasionally drag and a little slow. A couple of minutes could have been cut, but on the whole "Martha" is very compelling, intelligently made film with a great cast and script. It is certainly worthy viewing.
  • May 7, 2012
    A thoroughly enthralling psychological thriller that fires on all cylinders. This films creates a tense mood filled with great performances, especially from its lead Elizabeth Olson. Some may moan about the ending, but it doesn't ruin the overall satisfaction of the film. This is... read more a superbly entertaining and well-crafted thriller.

Critic Reviews

Christy Lemire
March 18, 2014
Christy Lemire, Associated Press

In quiet, intimate ways, it is one of the most startling, haunting films you'll see all year. Full Review

Peter Rainer
March 18, 2014
Peter Rainer, Christian Science Monitor

Durkin intersperses the present-day scenes with increasingly revelatory flashbacks from Martha's two years in the cult. Full Review

Lisa Schwarzbaum
February 18, 2012
Lisa Schwarzbaum, Entertainment Weekly

MMMM emphasizes the social and economic discrepancies between Martha's then and now, and alludes to Lucy's guilt about not being there for her younger sister in the past. Full Review

Dave Calhoun
January 31, 2012
Dave Calhoun, Time Out

Once we've got over the frustration of this promising film's abrupt ending, we're left with the feeling that you can escape a cult but you can't escape yourself. Full Review

Tom Long
November 4, 2011
Tom Long, Detroit News

A purposely disturbing portrait of a damaged psyche. Full Review

Lisa Kennedy
November 4, 2011
Lisa Kennedy, Denver Post

Durkin depicts a horror that some among us actually live, where the search for family leads to something familiar and dangerous. Full Review

Joe Williams
November 4, 2011
Joe Williams, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

"Martha Marcy May Marlene" will stick with you. Full Review

Colin Covert
November 3, 2011
Colin Covert, Minneapolis Star Tribune

Sean Durkin's compulsively watchable first film is a psychological thriller camouflaged as an Ingmar Bergman-style country-house drama. Full Review

Bill Goodykoontz
November 3, 2011
Bill Goodykoontz, Arizona Republic

Hawkes is, as ever, outstanding. But Olsen is a wonder. Full Review

J. R. Jones
November 3, 2011
J. R. Jones, Chicago Reader

The horror aesthetic of B-movie producer Val Lewton -- that the unseen is more frightening than the seen -- is carried to a merciless extreme in this unnerving debut feature by writer-director Sean Du... Full Review

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    • Martha: Not everything has to be a big deal.
    • Patrick: Your my favorite. I won't lose you.
    • Patrick: Death is pure love.
    • Lucy: Sometimes I think I just should have come home, and made sure you went to college. You had so much potential.
    • Martha: I don't need your guidance now and I didn't then. I am a teacher and a leader. You just never let me be that, but now I am, and I know who I am.
    • Lucy: A teacher and a leader? What are you talking about?
    • Martha: You learned to measure success by money and possessions.
    • Martha: Patrick only has boys.

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