Director Sean Durkin delivers an impressive psychological thriller with Martha Marcy May Marlene. Durkin, working with Elizabeth Olsen in a star-making role presents a compelling tale of a young woman struggling to find her place in the world. Haunted by her stay in an upstate New York cult run by an excellent John Hawkes, she flees to her estranged sister and new husband’s summer cottage. As Martha juggles reality with flashbacks of increasingly disturbing events in her cult life, her family struggles with how to help her.
Shot in an idyllic view, the methodical pace of the film seamlessly blends the two worlds together and we find ourselves equally sharing in Martha’s paranoia. Avoiding the obvious, commercial need for shocks, this art house film delivers a powerful story that is hardly resolved when the action fades out. We want to know what happens next, and that rarely happens with mainstream movies unless there is a sequel in the works back at the studio.
Olsen, the younger sister of the famous Ashley and Mary Kate Olsen T.V. and fashion empire delivers a nuanced, sophisticated performance often with just her doe eyes registering a wide range of emotions. Much like last year’s breakout performance by Jennifer Lawrence in the indie film Winter’s Bone, also starring John Hawkes, consider this the first look at a major new talent.
Hopefully this film will find an audience, although at the advance screening I attended, the audience seemed confused as to what they were watching. This is a quiet, dark and powerful film that should be seen both for the performance and for the exploration of family dynamics, as well as sexual politics.