Art & Culture

It is very rare to anticipate a film with pleasure and then find that the actual experience exceeds your expectations. This is what happened when I saw MMMM today after waiting 6 months. I thought it would be good, but I was wrong. It is very very good indeed.

Credit must go everywhere, but to two people in particular. Sean Durkin, the writer/director whose first film this is, and Elizabeth Olsen, the 23 year old actress, who was previously best known as the younger sister of the Olsen twins (big in the 90s). They are one hell of a combination.

The film opens with Martha aka Marcy May, slipping out of a house early one morning and running into the woods. She is pursued, or thinks she is, and eventually phones her older sister who she hasn't seen in 2 years. With some reluctance she allows her sister to come and get her, and drive her back to the lakeside house Lucy (the sister) and her English husband are renting for a fortnight. What gradually becomes clear – and I'm not giving anything away here – is that she has been involved in a cult for the last 2 years, and now she has run away.

So far, so normal. What we would expect is that being with her family would heal her, and she and her sister would reconnect, or maybe Martha would have an affair with the brother-in-law and that would complicate things, or maybe the cult would come bursting out of the woods with meat cleavers, and we would have a horror movie. But none of the above. Instead we watch as Martha fails to readjust to 'normal' life, refuses to engage with her sister, pisses off her brother in law, all the while remembering what happened when she was with the other family, while the films switches back and forth seamlessly between the past and present. It's a stunning achievement, which draws us in inexorably, creating an unbearably tense atmosphere, although very little happens that is overtly dramatic.  Instead, we are able to gradually piece together what happened to Martha and why she behaves the way she does, while fully empathising with Lucy's mounting frustration at not being able to get through to someone she loves who is obviously damaged, but unable/unwilling to allow anyone to help.

I don't think I can speak highly enough of the film, even the ending, which had me baffled and confused at the time, but which now seems clearer, having looked it up online. Olsen is simply stunning, her performance the work of an actress twice her age. And for Durkin to have the confidence to create something so subtle and complex and unusual is equally impressive. I could go on and on about why you should see it, but the less you know of what happens the better, in order to allow the surprises to take you by surprise.

Just go and see it.


Phil Raby

Front Row Films

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