“Martha Marcy May Marlene” was one of my favorite films of 2011, and certainly the best indie drama I saw all year.
The film stars Elizabeth Olsen as Martha, a recent escapee of an abusive Catskill Mountains cult. Shortly after fleeing the group and their enigmatic leader (played by John Hawkes), she moves in with her semi-estranged sister and her sister’s husband in an attempt to assimilate back into society. In the end, Martha must overcome her psychological damage and return to normal life before her paranoia destroys the lives of everyone around her.
“Martha” is now available on XFINITY On Demand, as well as DVD and Blu-ray. Among the special features on the DVD and Blu-ray is a short film called “Mary Last Seen,” which shows how young women are recruited and brought to the cult’s farm house. The short is not a prequel or sequel, but exists as its own story within the world of “Martha.” I recently talked to the film’s director Sean Durkin, who explained how the short came to be.
“It was the summer of 2009, I had been writing ‘Martha’ for a couple of years and we talked about making it, but felt like the script wasn’t quite right,” Durkin said. “I wanted to make a new short, first and foremost, that I felt confident in sending out with the [‘Martha’] script. I also wanted to do something that connected to the world that Martha was in, but I didn’t want it to be reliant on the feature.
He continued, “I had done a lot of research about cults and had found all this stuff about how someone gets to the farm or the commune or the group. And that stuff was really fascinating to me, and that process was really fascinating and scary, but it wasn’t in “Martha” because “Martha” was about what happens when someone leaves. So I thought the combination of those things allowed to make a short that could deal with that process.”
“Mary Last Seen” stars Brady Corbet, who plays cult recruiter Watts in both the short and feature films. Seeing as how the former is only 15 minutes long, I won’t spoil anything with a synopsis, but I recommend – as does Durkin – that you watch “Martha” before watching the short, if you haven’t seen it already. There is something particularly haunting about seeing someone’s beginnings in a cult after you’ve seen someone else’s devastating ending.
And as endings go, the concluding awards season and home video release of “Martha” mark the end of this journey for Durkin and his critically acclaimed film, which earned him, Olsen and Hawkes nominations at this year’s Film Independent Spirit Awards.
“We made this film completely on our own for very little money and did it the way we wanted to do it and had an absolutely fantastic year,” Durkin said. “We couldn’t have asked for more. It’s been a wonderful learning experience and a very rewarding process.”
Read more about “Martha Marcy May Marlene” by clicking here.
The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.