Review – Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011)


martha-marcy-may-marlene-56b11e8c6cf67Welcome to Mind Control Month | Brainwashing/Deception Week – Day 3. Today, we’re talking about another movie I’ve already reviewed [review here]. However, I scored it so highly that I thought it’d be a crime not to review it again with the new formula. As for the tongue-twisting title, Martha Marcy May Marlene, that refers to her first name – Martha, cult name – Marcy May, and her name to outsiders and phone calls – Marlene…just in case you were wondering…I couldn’t fully remember, myself. Let’s get started with the plot.

Martha has run away from an abusive hippie-like cult where she was living as Marcy May for two years. She turns to her sister and brother-in-law who take her in and want to help her. The problem is Martha is having a hard time separating dreams from reality and when haunting memories of her past keep resurfacing, she may need more help than anyone is able to give her. (IMDb)

My original score may be different than my score today, but I still maintain that this film may be the most realistic depiction of brainwashing that we have in film, and there’s a very good reason for that. Movies about cults often center on the questionable activity that happens in the actual cult in question. Very few focus on the effects of cult life after leaving the congregation, and that’s what this film is all about. By doing that, they were able to do something new in a way that really shows how things like this brainwash you and turn you into something broken and impossible to really help because you’re so far gone at that point.

So, let’s get to the point and break down Martha Marcy May Marlene to interpret the stars!


Acting – 2|Characters – 2|Casting – 1|Importance – 1|Chemistry – 2

The people category did a great job, but it could’ve been better. There was a lot of range from everyone in the film, especially Elizabeth Olsen, who did a wonderful job at carrying the film as a whole. You’ll also remember the film for the characters, as they were all portrayed differently enough to remember…that being said, anyone could’ve played these characters. No disrespect. These actors did a great job…but I’m not convinced other actors couldn’t do the same. Importance-wise, cult films have a lot of zombie-like followers, so independent importance doesn’t really exist…but there’s more of it here than in most films like it. Finally, I would say that the chemistry was really well done.

Dialogue – 2|Balance – 1|Story – 2|Original – 2|Interesting – 2

Next up, we have the writing category, which did a pretty good job overall. The one area that could’ve used some serious help was the balanced category. While it doesn’t go all over the place, it still has a bit of an aimless plot as there are no real goals for any of the characters, no end point. It follows them around as if it were a true story…but it isn’t. Other than that, it’s perfect. The dialogue is, of course, fantastic. A big part of brainwashing in these types of films is how people speak and are spoken to, and they did a great job here. The story is ultimately about a girl and how living in that type of terrible culture affected her physically, emotionally, and mentally…and that’s a story that hasn’t been told much before, making it both original and interesting at the same time.

BTS SCORE – 9/10
Visuals – 1|Directing – 2|Editing – 2|Advertisement – 2|Music – 2

Next up, the behind-the-scenes is equally as impressive. While the visuals aren’t terrible, there’s nothing about them that really stand out…but for everything else in this category, they do. The use of camera work is very well thought-out, which made the movie look nice and the use of the editing was actually really cool. While it followed this woman around after she escaped the cult, the actual flashbacks blended with present time in a really smooth fashion that pushed the fact that the past was still affecting her in a really negative manner, and that was smart. Also, in more of a sound production way, the sound and music subcategory was dealt with beautifully. It was deep and creepy when it needed to be, and it was light and inviting at other points. Finally, it was as-advertised.

Introduction – 0|Inciting Incident – 2|Obstacles – 2|Climax – 1|Falling Action – 0

But as great as the other categories have got it, the problem with having a bit of an unbalanced film with no real direction will probably have some kind of problem in the narrative structure category, and this one started with the actual introduction. The introduction itself is the flashbacks. The film actually began with the inciting incident of Martha escaping from the cult. Flashbacks are fine, but they aren’t really an introduction – as the entire point of those are introducing characters and what’s ultimately going on…if you don’t know what that is until later on in the film…it has no introduction. The obstacles come down to both the paranoid experiences Martha has, as well as the problems her sister has to deal with throughout the film. The climax, however, was just another scene. It doesn’t feel like any culmination of everything else…not really. You can tell that’s what it’s supposed to be, but it just doesn’t feel like it. That’s it, though. That’s how it mostly ends, which means nothing calms down or returns to a new norm. If anything, it just gets worse.

Rewatchability – 1|Fun – 1|Sucks you in – 1|Impulse/Buy – 0|Impulse/Talk – 0

Without question, I had more of a fun time watching it the first time around. Some films are better the second time around, but some are worse. I’d hate to actually call this film a one-time viewer, but that might just be the case. This was technically a rewatch of the film, so I’ll definitely say it’s somewhat rewatchable, but I’m not sure I’ll rewatch it again. How fun is it? Well, there were some truly thrilling aspects of the film, but there were also some moments that were just slow and boring at the same time, so my ability to get sucked in wasn’t as strong this time around. Also, I don’t care to buy the film, own the film as a gift, or even really tell others about it…so, do with that what you will.

Mind Control – 5|Brainwashing – 10|Drama – 10|Mystery – 5|Halfway Decent – 10

Next up, we have the specialty category, which is where I asked five questions before seeing the film this time. First of all, how was the mind control aspect of the monthly theme? Again, when I think of mind control, I think of actually controlling the actions of others more than just blindly following somebody around like a lost, dumb puppy. They definitely get into their mind and screw things up, so I’ll at least award half points there. How was the brainwashing, though? Like I said, this movie probably has the best and most realistic depiction of brainwashing…full points. This film was also listed as both a drama and mystery – and how were those genres? Well, there’s certainly no question that this film was dramatic…it definitely is. Mystery, though? I don’t think I really questioned why she was like this…it was nice to learn more about her through the flashbacks, but it wasn’t really a mystery per se…so I’ll give half points there…since there was a basic interest in what she went through. Finally, was it halfway decent? It may not have been as good as my first time viewing, but it’s definitely still halfway decent.

TOTAL – 74/100

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