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Martha Marcy May Marlene

It’s superb. A 20ish young woman named Martha(Olsen sister Elizabeth, who is not one of the twins)joins a Manson-esque cult—only to escape soon after a particularly traumatic event. The great John Hawkes is FAN-FUCKING-TASTIC as the leader, Patrick. He is a marvel—and one of my favorite American actors. And Sarah Paulson, as Martha’s big sister Lucy, is having a tremendous year between “Game Change”, “American Horror Story” and this. Helmer Sean Durkin makes a remarkable feature debut that won him the U.S. Directing Award for Best Drama at 2011 Sundance. His film is incredibly eerie and creeps under your skin with astonishing subtlety and poise. I’m finding it impossible to shake.                    However, I would be remiss if not mentioning the overwhelming polarization between what the major critics raved about and the general public’s disdain—at least the majority of them on various comment boards and postings of user reviews. Some of these people are apparently adults. I’ve read about the movie being boring, its confusing flashback style and the lack of a clear-cut ending. Really, folks? Have your minds gone that flaccid? Are you the same audiences complaining that Hollywood is “Transformer”-ing us to death, only to be devoid of patience and taste when a perfectly paced indie like this happens along? I’m really curious, because the naysayers don’t deserve a work this rich. If you need everything handed to you on a silver platter, then this is not the Friday night choice for you. That being said, I don’t believe this film is perplexing, nor do I believe the finale to be ambiguous at all. Kind of sad to contemplate what those givers of the bottom-of-the-barrel 1-star on Netflix were watching.               “MMMM” opens with Martha’s harrowing escape, and eventual phone call to her sibling to pick her up at a bus stop somewhere in upstate New York. After driving three hours to get her, it becomes apparent through limited conversation that Martha and Lucy have had a tumultuous relationship—and Martha a wayward and troubled existence. Also, Martha does not divulge where she’s truly been for a couple of years—fibbing that she had been living with some jerky boyfriend in the Catskills. Lucy brings Martha to the summer lake house that she rents with her husband, where Martha begins to exhibit some increasingly disturbing personality quirks and disturbances. It escalates into much tension between the trio and eventually includes some violent outbursts. We meet Patrick and his clan through the aforementioned flashback approach, and the dread ratchets up with each visit to the past. Patrick is innocent enough at first, even when he dubs his young charge Marcy May. Inklings of darker matters are afoot almost immediately after that introduction, however. We know bad things are going to happen—but initially we can’t foresee just how bad. There are some disturbing situations and images on their way, but it is all done without a drop of blood seen. The creepiness is all in the set-up. The level of foreboding is excruciating. But it’s vastly rewarding for the curious and patient. You may not want to watch this at night by yourself.               I will not give away the so-called “ambiguous & inconclusive” ending, only to repeat that I found it cut and dried.If you wonder if certain things are left to your imagination, I guess the answer is yes—but in my world that’s a good thing if you have any imagination to poke. If not, venture elsewhere, because I would hate to have Mr. Durkin wasting his time with you. This is an awesome debut. I’ll look forward to his sophomore effort.          Grade:  A


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