Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011) Directed by Sean Durkin. With Elizabeth Olsen, Sarah Paulson and John Hawkes.
Ever heard of Mary-Kate and Ashley – the Olsen twins? Well, it turns out they have a younger sister called Elizabeth…and she’s something of a revelation. Olsen displays natural poise, bravely handling dark subject matter with a presence and maturity that defies her young career.
Despite an awful title (I can never remember the correct sequence of the names), Martha Marcy May Marlene is the quietly sinister tale of a young woman, who after having escaped an abusive cult, struggles to reconnect with her old life. It is a film of whispered menace, craftily tightening its grip of suspense as the drama unfolds.
John Hawkes, on excellent form as the cult’s leader, is a gently-coaxing monster, calmly preaching his warped ideology to his community of lost, impressionable young women in exchange for a cleansed life of servitude and isolation, divorced from modern ways of life.
It is an impressive debut for writer-director Sean Durkin, who artfully captures the drama and the horror within it, while never allowing his film to become leery or exploitative. Durkin does a fine job of clearly accentuating the warring divide between Martha’s two lives; the homely, disciplined labour-camp lifestyle of the cult versus the indulgent, comfortable surroundings of home. It feels like an emotional tug-of-war that sways from one side to the other, testing Martha’s sanity. This is surely the signpost of an A-list career ahead for Olsen, who in one breakout performance will capture the attention of the mainstream high and mighty. Great film, shame about the title. 4/5