[[quoteright:314:http://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/martha_marcy_may_marlene_5791.jpg]]
[[caption-width-right:314:What? No, I'm [[BlatantLies absolutely fine, I swear.]]]]

->''"Do you ever have that feeling where you can't tell if something's a memory or if it's something you dreamed?"''

A 2011 independent PsychologicalThriller film, written and directed by first-timer Sean Durkin and starring Creator/ElizabethOlsen, Creator/JohnHawkes, Creator/SarahPaulson and Hugh Dancy.

It concerns itself with a young woman named Martha (Olsen), who calls her estranged sister Lucy (Paulson) in a panic, asking her to collect her from a small town in the Catskill Mountains. Lucy does so, and Martha goes to stay with Lucy and her husband Ted (Dancy). Unbeknownst to either Lucy or Ted, Martha has been a member of a sinister hippie cult for the past two years, led by the charismatic but mysterious Patrick (Hawkes). Her experiences with the cult are revealed in flashback.

The film was well-received, picking up a directorial award at Sundance. Critics particularly praised the unsettling storyline and the performances by Olsen and Hawkes, with many especially surprised by Olsen's performance, considering who her [[MaryKateAndAshleyOlsen sisters]] are (in his review, Creator/RogerEbert quipped that "Elizabeth Olsen can know that no one will ever ask, 'Which one is she?'").

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!!Tropes in the film:

* AffablyEvil: Patrick is extremely charismatic and friendly, which makes him even ''more'' terrifying than he would otherwise be.
* BlueAndOrangeMorality: Some of the things the cult believes in are merely offensive and backward, but others are so bizarre that they fall straight into this trope.
* BolivianArmyEnding: The film ends with Lucy and Ted driving Martha [[spoiler:to a mental hospital, with another car driving behind them. The car may or may not be driven by one of the members of the cult.]]
* {{Brainwashed}}: In the traditional sense. Even after Martha has grown disillusioned with the cult and escaped, she still finds herself reciting their beliefs verbatim at times, and generally is unable to [[BrainBleach unthink]] the cult's unique perspective on life.
* BreakTheCutie: Martha herself.
* BringMyBrownPants: A particularly explicit example (and a rare one where this trope isn't played for laughs). After flashing back to the time she helped prepare the next new female recruit for Patrick's sexual pleasure, Martha is shown from behind, sleeping the on floor next to the bed, as her nightgown gets wet; when she awakens afterward she takes it off and tries to hide it under the bedsheets. Later dialogue (see quote above) suggests the flashback was a dream she was having.
* CaliforniaDoubling: Half averted. The scenes with the cult were actually shot at a farm in the Catskills. The scenes at Lucy and Ted's house, while represented as being in Connecticut, were also filmed in the Catskills.
* CellPhonesAreUseless: At the beginning of the movie, Martha explains her lack of contact with Lucy over the last two years by saying she lost her cell phone and "got used to living without it."[[note]]The director's same-universe short ''Mary Last Seen'' suggests the cult may have stolen and destroyed it as part of her recruitment.[[/note]]. All the other phones we see in the movie are land lines. Justified perhaps by taking place in rural areas that in real life do have rather spotty cell coverage.
* CharacterTitle: Played with by all four names being used at different times for the main character.
* {{Cult}}: Obviously.
* CutPhoneLines: After Martha calls the cult from Lucy's house and hangs up after a short conversation, the phone rings. Martha immediately disconnects it.
* DeadAlternateCounterpart: InUniverse: The cultists rationalize their apparent murder of someone whose home they were invading by invoking the inversion of this trope.
* DinnerAndAShow: The scene where Ted quizzes Martha about her future plans, or rather the lack thereof, leading to his TheReasonYouSuckSpeech (see below)
* DoesThisRemindYouOfAnything: The film goes out of its way to highlight how Martha's relationship with Patrick is akin to an abusive, romantic one (for example, she never tells Lucy that she was involved with a cult, insisting that the last two years were merely spent with a boyfriend who lied to her). She ''also'' sees him as a father figure. Commence {{Squick}} now.
* DoubleEntendre: Max's instructions to Martha on how to shoot. Lampshaded by the way she's giggling as he does.
* DroneOfDread: A large portion of the soundtrack, what exists of it. There is not a lot of external music in the soundtrack beyond songs by the cult members.
* DullEyesOfUnhappiness: Martha for large parts of the film in the present day.
* EvenEvilHasStandards: After another one of the cult's women kills the supposedly sick cat when Martha fails to, Max kills the other cat, only for Patrick to criticize him for doing so so needlessly as the cat he killed was not the sick one.
* EvilPhone: The suggested reason why Martha disconnected the phone (see above)
* {{Fauxshadow}}: [[spoiler: Patrick teaching Martha to fire a gun suggests she [[ChekhovsSkill may need to use a gun again]] at some point (nope). Martha's fondness for swimming in the lake and her sister's caution that the day is quite cold for swimming suggests [[TemptingFate that she might meet a watery end]] (also nope). Her taking up Ted's offer to go out on the boat and learn to drive it suggests she might come on to him (nope)]]
* FoolishSiblingResponsibleSibling: This dynamic seems to exist between Lucy and Martha.
* FreakOut: After believing that the bartender at Lucy and Ted's party is one of the cultists, Martha ends their conversation by calling him a liar, smashing a glass, and suddenly carrying on about how she, Lucy and Ted have to leave immediately. They respond by taking her to their bedroom, [[IronicEcho giving her some medication]], and letting her sleep it off.
* HousePseudonym: Cult members must identify themselves as either "Marlene Lewis" or "Michael Lewis" when answering the phone.
* HowWeGotHere: The film alternates between Martha in the present and flashbacks to her time with the cult. However, in keeping with the film's ThroughTheEyesOfMadness-approach, the film's account of her time with the cult is rather vague and indistinct.
* IfYoureSoEvilEatThisKitten: It's a test of loyalty rather than evil-ness, but otherwise follows this trope practically to the letter.
* InTheBack: How Katie stabs the homeowner who catches Patrick, Martha and the other two cult members burglarizing his house.
* IntentionallyAwkwardTitle: While not offensive, the title's certainly a bit of a mouthful.
* InterruptedIntimacy: See RaisedByWolves.
* JumpingOffTheSlipperySlope: The cult initially seems like a fairly harmless bunch of hippies, with some at least defensible ideas about leaving behind material possessions and cleansing one's body of toxins. But they are soon revealed to be much nastier than that.
* MeaningfulRename: Patrick gives all the female members of the cult (and presumably the men too) new names upon their joining.
* MentalStory: A good half of the film consists of Martha's memories (which may or may not be entirely accurate).
* MonochromeCasting: Every character is white.
* MysteryCult: Martha doesn't seem to really know much about what the cult believes in when she joins.
* NeverTrustATrailer: Several of the movie's trailers make it appear to be much more fast paced and action heavy than it is.
* NoEnding: [[spoiler: We don't ever find out if the cult is real, if the man following them is a cultist, if he tries to attack them, if he follows them so the cult can come after Martha later, if she ever gets over her obvious mental health issues, if she ever tells her sister what is going on, or if she ever repairs her relationship with her sister (assuming she isn't killed by the cult). If the cult is real we also don't see if they eventually get shut down over the murder, rape, and implied infanticide. If it isn't real we have one clue (a fragment of an excuse about a boyfriend) as to what might have really happened to Martha and nothing else. It would be as if BlackSwan had ended twenty minutes earlier, mid-scene.]]
** Arguably, this is the overall point of the film. The true focus of the story is Martha showing, admitting and eventually seeking help for her mental problems, rather than Martha running away from the cult.
* NothingIsScarier: There are numerous scenes which are impossibly tense despite the fact that practically nothing is happening onscreen.
* NotUsingTheZWord: The word "cult" is never mentioned in the film.
* PaintingTheMedium: One of the only fade-outs in the film comes when Lucy and Ted give Martha tranquillizers to help her sleep when she becomes hysterical at a party. The film fades out as she starts to fall asleep.
* PoliticallyIncorrectVillain: Despite their largely socialist/transcendentalist ideologies, Patrick and his cult have decidedly... ''traditional'' views of gender roles.
* ProperlyParanoid: It's left ambiguous as to whether Martha is this or just flat-out paranoid.
* PromotionToParent: Lucy to Martha, since it's implied both of their parents died sometime ago. Her handling of the role also seems to have been a past source of friction between them.[[note]]For purposes of the filming, the actresses worked out the backstory between them so they knew exactly what they were talking about, even if it's not elaborated on.[[/note]]
* PsychologicalThriller
* PsychoStrings: Slower than usual, under the opening credits.
* RaisedByWolves: Martha has been a member of the cult for so long that she's forgotten all about basic social niceties such as not climbing into bed with your sister [[{{Squick}} while she's having sex with her husband]].
** Martha also jumps into a lake naked, which she considers normal, versus wearing a bathing suit. Her sister screams at her to get out of the water as not to disturb neighbors and/or their children. It's shown in flashback that the cult's female members swim without clothes.
* RapeAsDrama: See SexAsRiteOfPassage.
* TheReasonYouSuckSpeech: As Ted's patience with Martha wears thin, he launches into one for her at dinner.
-->'''Martha:''' It's not your fault you choose to measure your success by money and possessions. It's just not the ''right'' way to live.
-->'''Ted:''' It's not the right way to live? What is the right way to live exactly? Martha, what is the right way to live? Is it vanishing off the face of the earth and not calling your family for two years or until they're worried sick about you? Is that the right way to live? Or is it living without possessions until you actually need some and turning up on ''our'' doorstep where you know you can get some? Is that the right way to live? You sit there lecturing us about our lives, and so far I have not witnessed one sign that you have any values of your own. You should remember, Martha, you are living under ''my'' roof, and you are eating ''my'' food, and you should watch your mouth because you are rude!"
** Martha has a KickTheDog moment for her sister at the end:
--->'''Martha:''' You're going to be a terrible mother.
* RecklessGunUsage: Teaching someone to shoot a a handgun while coming on to them physically and using suggestive terminology really isn't a very good idea. The film sort of lampshades this by having Patrick come into the scene and not only do it more conscientiously but criticize Max in the process.
* SanitySlippage: Martha initially doesn't come across as particularly upset by her experiences with the cult (although she's ''very'' eager to leave them behind), but over the course of the film the audience soon learns that she is much more traumatised by her experiences than she first appears.
* SexAsRiteOfPassage: Part of the induction process for the female members is to be drugged and raped by Patrick.
* SleevesAreForWimps: Patrick often wears just a tank top.
* SlippingAMickey: To accomplish the above, new female members are given an herbal drink that, unbeknownst to them, been spiked with sedatives.
* SoundtrackDissonance: The credits.
* ThroughTheEyesOfMadness: It's left ambiguous as to whether Martha really is being followed by members of the cult or not. Additionally, it's hinted (as the page quote indicates) that some of her memories of the cult might be distorted or outright imagined.
* UnreliableNarrator: See ThroughTheEyesOfMadness.
* UnusualEuphemism: Martha has been a member of the cult for several weeks, but Patrick says that to properly embrace the cult she'll need to let her guard down and "share" herself.
* VeryLooselyBasedOnATrueStory: The cult is loosely inspired by the [[UsefulNotes/CharlesManson Manson "family"]]. This is primarily in terms of the family's recruitment methods and the activities they carried out together, and less in terms of their beliefs - Patrick makes no mention of possessing any racially-oriented beliefs, for example. Patrick himself is practically an {{Expy}} of Manson: like Manson, Patrick is a folk guitarist, and Creator/JohnHawkes bears more than a passing resemblance to the man himself.
** Notably though, despite no mention of racial beliefs, all of the cult members are Caucasian (see MonochromeCasting).
* WakeupMakeup: Martha the morning after her FreakOut.
* WhamLine: It's said totally casually, which just makes it more disturbing in its implications: when a new recruit comments that all of the babies at the compound are male, Martha replies "[Patrick] only has boys." Uh...''what?''
* WordSaladTitle: Although ItMakesSenseInContext. Martha is the protagonist's real name and "Marcy May" is what Patrick christens her upon her induction into the cult. Additionally, when answering the phone, all male members of the cult are instructed to use the name "Matthew Lewis" so as to avoid revealing their identities, while all female members are to go by "Marlene Lewis". Hence, "Martha Marcy May Marlene".
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