music friday: fillmore west, october 16, 1969
creature feature: the skull (freddie francis, 1965)

martha marcy may marlene (sean durkin, 2011)

This is the sixth film I have watched in "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2020-21", "A 33 week long challenge where the goal each week is to watch a previously unseen feature length film from a specified category." This is the 6th annual challenge, and my second time participating (last year can be found at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2019-20"). Week 6 is called Mumblegore Week:

What we got here is what's known in the business as a sub-genre, a more specific type of film within a specified genre. Here, we can see the horror spinoff of the Mumblecore genre: films characterized by low budgets and a focus on naturalistic acting and dialogue over plot, now stained with fake blood and jump scares. Time to get spooky.

This week's challenge is to watch a previously unseen Mumblegore film.

OK, I've seen a "Mumblegore" film. I'm not sure I understand the genre yet. Martha Marcy May Marlene fits the Mumblecore mode, low budget ($600,000) and the rest. And it has some trigger scenes. But "gore" is the wrong word for this film. The IMDB "Parents Guide" lists 9 items under "Sex and Nudity", and also notes examples of profanity and drinking. But it only lists 4 items under "Violence and Gore". One of those four happens outside of the camera's view, one features "no blood or injury", one is "woman kicks man down the stairs". There is rape in the movie, and it is as upsetting as it should be ... as I say, there are trigger scenes in the movie. But there is little to no fake blood, and jump scares are also at a minimum. What Sean Durkin does is create an ominous tension that never leaves us throughout the movie. It works as a kind of horror movie, but it's really more a character study of disturbed people, more subtle than the "Mumblegore" tag suggests.

For the most part, this is all irrelevant. The movie is effective, whatever genre it is in. It features the breakout performance from Elizabeth Olsen, and excellent supporting jobs by John Hawkes and Sarah Paulson. Durkin relies heavily on Olsen in his first feature as a director, and she's is more than up to it. As Roger Ebert wrote at the time, "Elizabeth Olsen can know that no one will ever ask, 'Which one is she?'" His comment might seem odd, given her eventual fame as Scarlet Witch in the Avengers movies, but in 2011, if she was known at all it was as the younger sister of the Olsen twins.

I feel like I'm mostly talking around the edges of Martha Marcy May Marlene. But there's only so many ways I can say that Elizabeth Olsen is terrific here. #453 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of the 21st century.


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