Thursday Trailer Face-Off! Martha Marcy May Marlene vs. Red State



Welcome to Thursday Trailer Face-Off, a feature in which we cast a critical eye on two similar upcoming film releases, pitting them against each other across a variety of categories to determine which is most deserving of your two hours. This week: Martha Marcy May Marlene vs. Red State, two thrillers about fundamentalist cults and the psychological havoc they can wreak.









We’ll say right off the bat that while the Martha Marcy May Marlene video above is a full trailer, while the Red State material to which we have access is just a teaser. It’s shorter, and may not impart the feel of the film as well as the Martha trailer does. And what’s more, there’s not a ton of press material about Martha available online besides its trailer: no plot summary on Wikipedia, nothin’! That said, we’ve been able to figure out at least this much about the two movies: Martha Marcy May Marlene concerns the experience of the title character, Martha (Elizabeth Olsen), who’s seduced into joining what she thinks is a hippie commune but actually turns out to be a cult. After she escapes, she goes to live with her aunt and uncle (Sarah Paulson and Hugh Dancy) and attempts to piece her identity back together—all the while afraid, it seems, that the people she’s just abandoned will come to find her. In Red State, three horny teenaged boys answer an online ad from an older woman looking for group sex—but then, “what begins as a fantasy takes a dark turn as they come face-to-face with a terrifying’‘holy’ force with a fatal agenda.” We’re giving this one to Martha, since it seems like its drama is more subtle and less sensationalist. (Confidential to screenwriters: it’s hard to make “three horny boys go on a road trip to gang-bang an older woman” sound mature and refined.) Advantage: Martha Marcy May Marlene

Martha Marcy May Marlene
is the debut feature from Sean Durkin, who’s previously written and directed several shorts and produced a couple of features. A promising career so far, but he doesn’t stack up to Red State director Kevin Smith. Even if we were to take away points for Smith’s misses, we have to give him credit for owning them: in a video introducing the teaser trailer for iTunes, Smith introduced the movie by saying, “This ain’t a comedy, like Clerks and Mallrats. This is a horror movie, like Jersey Girl!” Point, Smith! Advantage: Red State

stars Elizabeth Olsen, younger sister of Mary-Kate and Ashley and current indie darling. She’s got four other big projects coming out in the next year or two, and all indications suggest she’s going to be a big star. Supporting Olsen are Sarah Paulson and Hugh Dancy as her aunt and uncle, as well as the tremendously unsettling John Hawkes (seriously, did you see Winter’s Bone?) as her captor and Funny Games‘ Brady Corbet as her fellow member of the cult. Red State stars some unexpected faces, too: notably John Goodman as a federal agent, general cutie pie Michael Angarano, and our favorite loopy Oscar winner, Melissa Leo. They’re both great casts, but Lizzie Olsen’s got enough star power to put Martha Marcy May Marlene at the top. Advantage: Martha Marcy May Marlene

Creepy Music Factor
It appears the editors of both of these trailers have learned the power of the creepy single acoustic voice as a backdrop for quick-cut scenes of unsettling material, and we commend them for that: it’s used to great effect in both. John Hawkes singing “Well, she’s just a picture that lives on my wall / Just a picture, that’s all” will probably give us nightmares tonight. But Red State gets this win for two reasons: one, it’s a more committed use of the trick (the whole teaser, rather than just 30 seconds at the end); and two, it seems more directly relevant to the film’s plot (the character is singing a song about sinners). Advantage: Red State

Both films premiered on equal footing, at Sundance, but Martha Marcy May Marlene went on to win the Best Director prize; zilch for Smith, unfortunately. Martha‘s early reviews have been stronger, too: it was called “one of the more impressive debuts we’ve seen in some time” and “the finest film” of the 2011 Sundance Festival. Olsen, in particular, drew raves for her “magnificently ambiguous performance.” Red State hasn’t fared so well; The Hollywood Reporter liked it, but various bloggers called it “a messy, ambitious disappointment” and “frustratingly inconsistent.” Maybe Smith ought to stick to comedy. Advantage: Martha Marcy May Marlene

The Verdict
Even with the handicap we allowed Red State for its trailer not being a full-length one, Martha Marcy May Marlene trumps it: we can tell even from the trailer that Olsen’s performance will be one of 2011’s most memorable ones. We didn’t even get a sense from Red State‘s teaser of who its protagonist might be, and we’re wary of some critics’ assessment that the movie plays out like one of Smith’s political rants, just on film. Winner: Martha Marcy May Marlene