Martha Marcy May Marlene (4 out of 5 stars)
Directed and Written by: Sean Durkin
Starring: Elizabeth Olsen, Hugh Dancy, Sarah Paulsen, and John Hawkes
This haunting tale starts with Martha with a group of people at a farm in upstate New York. During the morning Martha (Elizabeth Olsen) runs away to town and ends up calling her sister to come pick her up from, well she does not know where. Martha has disappeared for two years ends up living with a cult. Martha's sister (Sarah Paulsen) comes to get her and bring her to her quiet home away from New York City in Connecticut. As Martha attempts to get past her experiences with the cult the film flashes back between her time in the cult and her attempt to rehab at her sister's.
First time writer director Sean Durkin uses tight screen shots to create an emotionally wrought film. Martha's emotionally disturbed nature haunts her in so many ways. The leader of the cult Patrick played by the brilliantly subtle John Hawkes acts a father figure and a disturbed Charles Manson like character. Patrick tells Martha "You don't look like a Martha, you look like a Marcy May."
Durkin does a phenomenal job of never allowing the viewer to fully be aware of Martha's actions or who she is at a given time. The question he poses throughout the film is are we watch Martha or Marcy May. Durkin staggers the story through the editing and only allows us to see pieces of Elizabeth's time in the cult and time in recovery. There is strength in the way he tells this story that makes it one of the most compelling thrillers in years.
As much I was pulled in by Durkin's work, I was equally mesmerized by the talent of Elizabeth Olsen. Olsen was amazing in this role; she went from helpless victim, to this dark follower in a mater of seconds. Olsen had an edge and yet she is beyond helpless as she runs away and tries to hide away from the cult. Olsen is the star and carries out the emotional aftermath of of the cult so well. Throughout the last scenes of the film, we do not know how emotionally disturbed Martha has become. Is Martha's emotionally disturbed nature playing tricks on her mind? Olsen's brilliant performance never allows the audience to know or understand whether she is is still trapped in the the world of the cult.