Martha Marcy May Marlene
Written and directed by Sean Durkin
Starring Elizabeth Olsen, John Hawkes, Sarah Paulson, Hugh Dancy
“Martha Marcy May Marlene” is a powerful, tense film about a Catskills cult and a young woman, Martha, who defects from it.
The allure of this Sundance hit can be credited largely to its star, Elizabeth Olsen. With a face that looks as wise as it does naïve, she is perfect for playing a lost soul who’s beyond her years yet still so young.
The movie opens as Martha tip-toes off the farm where she and her fellow cult members reside. On the run, she calls her estranged sister, Lucy (Sarah Paulson), and crashes at Lucy and her husband’s (Hugh Dancy) summer lake house.
Right away, lifestyles collide: Back on the farm, nudity and group sex were the norm. In many respects, Martha is like a wild animal struggling with domestication.
Throughout the movie, Martha has flashbacks to her cult days and the group’s shifty yet charasmatic leader, Patrick (John Hawkes).
The story could easily have been sensationalized, as cult stories often are, but director Sean Durkin tells it with a wonderfully low-key sense of foreboding.
Martha fears that Patrick will hunt her down, but what’s most haunting is that even under her sister’s roof, Martha appears more lost than she was at the commune.
She’s safer, but Durkin rattles you with the unsettling possibility that vulnerable souls don’t always find their way.