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Featured Blu-ray / DVD Review: Martha Marcy May Marlene

February 20th, 2012

Martha Marcy May Marlene - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray

Martha Marcy May Marlene opened in limited release in October and from the beginning it was seen as a potential player during Awards Season. It did earn four Independent Spirit Award nominations, and picked up countless awards and nominations at film festivals and local critic awards, but it was shut out at the majors. Is this a great film that was snubbed at the Oscars? Or was it not quite Oscar-worthy? Or will I be one of the few voices to not sing its praises?

The Movie

The film begins with life on an isolated farm. We see people work, a small child play, a woman setting the table. That night we see the people eat, first the men, then the women. The next morning, we see the woman who set the table run away. After she's followed to town, she calls her sister who comes and picks her up and takes her back with her and her husband.

At this point, we know very little about the people. We learn that the woman who escaped is Martha, who had not spoken to her sister, Lucy, in two years. She bounced around with her boyfriend before winding up on Patrick's farm. At first the place seems like a calming paradise, but there's something odd about Patrick's demeanor. Obviously something happened that made her run away, but we don't learn what it is for a while.

Meanwhile, we are shown in parallel Martha trying to adjust to life with Lucy and Hugh Dancy. Life outside the cult is difficult for her, and her sister doesn't seem to realize how difficult it is. In fact she acts like Martha is just being difficult, her usual flaky self, and not that she was a member of a cult with all of the mental stress that would cause. Additionally, Martha begins to suspect that this cult is not out of her life and has come to bring her back to the farm. But we don't know if this is true, or if it is a figment of a paranoid nature. Both are definitely possible.

Because of the parallel nature of the film, there's not a lot that can be said without entering spoiler territory. We don't learn a whole lot about these characters for much of the movie, and what we do learn is something I don't want to reveal. This does bring us to what is arguably the biggest flaw in the movie. It does move slowly and for much of the film, we don't learn a lot about these characters. It is very hard to become emotionally involved with people we know so little about. We jump back and forth between Martha's time with the cult and her recovering with her sister, but without a deeper understanding of these people, it's much harder to do a compare and contrast between the two situations. This jumping back and forth also added a layer of confusion and disorientation. This in turn adds to the effectiveness of Martha's emotional stress in the later part of the film, but not everyone watching the movie will agree it is worth it and some complained it was an example of the film trying to be too clever for its own good.

What I think is not up for debate is the amazing quality of Elizabeth Olsen's performance. Okay, maybe one could argue whether or not she deserved to earn an Oscar nomination. I don't know if you could argue it's a true snub, as you would have to name an actress who was nominated who didn't deserve it. I'm not willing to make that call; however, had she earned an Oscar nomination, I would not have been surprised.

The Extras

Apparently the only extra on the DVD is Mary Last Seen, a short film made by the writer / director, Sean Durkin, which can be seen as a prequel to the movie. There are several additional extras on the Blu-ray, starting with a three-minute Spotlight on Elizabeth Olsen, which is exactly what it sounds like. There are several short interview / making of featurettes The Story is a four-minute featurette with the cast, while Making Of Martha Marcy May Marlene is three minutes, and Conversation with the Filmmakers is also three minutes. The Psyche of the Cult is the longest featurette at just five minutes. Finally, there's a music video. Combined, it's not bad for a limited release, but it is also not loaded.

As for the technical specs, the films looks good, but not great. It's a low budget drama and while there's nothing that's terrible, it's also not visually showy either. There are scenes that are soft, scenes with muted colors, etc., but these are for aesthetic choices. Likewise, the dialogue is clear, which is the most important part of the audio mix, but don't expect your surround sound speakers to get a workout.

Finally we get to the price. The Blu-ray costs $20 and the DVD cost $16. Granted, none of the exclusive extras on the Blu-ray push the technology, nor is it a movie that needs to be seen in High Definition, but that's still an excellent price.

The Verdict

While Martha Marcy May Marlene didn't earn any Oscar nods, the film, and especially Elizabeth Olsen, deserved all of the high praise and awards heaped on this film. The DVD doesn't have a lot of extras, but if you haven't made the leap to high definition, it is still worth picking up. If you have made the leap, then the Blu-ray is worth paying the extra $4 for.

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Filed under: Video Review, Martha Marcy May Marlene