Martha Marcy May Marlene opens this Friday, October 21st and, frankly, it is a magnificent film (my review here). While it may not overtly belong in the horror genre, it’s so unsettling and tense it deserves a look from anyone who likes to be on the edge of their seat.
“It’s not a film for everyone, though I would certainly recommend it to many people. It’s also not a horror film, but I would certainly recommend it to many horror fans (especially if you respond to paranoia, suspense or creeping dread). First time writer/director Sean Durkin has crafted a film that will likely make you grapple with your own feelings of uncertainty and the fear of where you do and don’t belong (if anywhere).”
Late last week I had the chance, along with several other journalists, to speak with director Sean Durkin and stars Elizabeth Olsen, Sarah Paulson and John Hawkes about the film.
Hit the jump to check it out! Sean Durkin on casting Elizabeth Olsen, “We wanted an unknown and she was the best person. It was totally fleshed out in the script but how someone is going to interpret it is always tricky. So you start with what you don’t want and then find what you do want. And after the first audition I realized she was what I wanted.”
The film is so measured and assured tonally (especially for a first time director), what was the process like? “The look of the film specifically, we knew we wanted the film to be weathered and worn in so we had to figure out how create that look. Jody [Lee Lipes, Cinematographer] had the idea for underexposing and making the blacks milky and we tested that and it became the look we wanted to create. From there it was about shooting scenes to create tension, is the tension created by holding still on a long shot? Or by cutting back and forth? It was really about looking at each point in the script and doing what’s best.”
Elizabeth Olsen on the demanding nature of the role, “You have harder days than others and more draining days than others. It was emotionally exhausting but we had a great family and we had a lot of fun doing it, so I didn’t feel like I was ‘heavy’ all the time.”
John Hawkes often bases elements of his characters from people in his life or people he’s familiar with. In this case he did neither, “I wasn’t interested in trying to ape anyone’s previous performances, or any cult leader. There was no one in life I really wanted to draw from on this. I wanted it to feel as though Patrick fell from the sky and landed in this place. The film is so elusive and deals so much with questions and mystery I wanted the character to be a mystery to the audience and I wanted him to be a mystery to me as well.”
John, you play a song in the film. How many takes did that require? “Three. One of the wonderful and terrifying things about that is that it was going to be the score of the film for three minutes and there was going to be no way to edit within it. It just had to be the take that sucked the least. And rather than pre-record the song, it was a wonderful challenge to basically score live.”
Elizabeth Olsen on the film’s ending, “For me, I have no idea what’s going to happen afterwards. It ends how it ends but I love how it ends in a transition. And it doesn’t tie anything up and give the audience a relief. I also feel like audiences want a lot of times want a crazy twist, but that they’re ultimately unsatisfied with that [afterwards]. I think Sean created an ending where no matter what, people can’t be like, ‘I knew it!’”
John Hawkes, “I’ve heard Sean say something to the effect that whatever questions the audience has, those are the same questions Martha has. I hope it’s a gift to the audience to live in a different world and live in a film where things aren’t answered for you.”
Elizabeth Olsen on the film’s alliteration heavy title, “When people ask me about the title, I tell them they’re not going to remember it but they’ll remember that it has a lot of ‘M’s.”
Sarah, your character hasn’t seen or heard about the cult. Did that affect the way you played the character? “I think it was very important that I knew nothing about it because Martha in the movie tells me nothing about it. My confusion and desire to know more was my own because Martha reveals so little. I didn’t do any research on cults. I didn’t look at pictures of what they had shot. I thought it was probably best to not have any information about what she went through.”