Director: Sean Durkin
Starring: Elizabeth Olsen, John Hawkes, Sarah Paulson, Hugh Dancy
Duration: 102 min.
Haunted by painful memories and increasing paranoia, a damaged woman struggles to re-assimilate with her family after fleeing an abusive cult.
Martha Marcy May Marlene is the debut feature film by writer and director Sean Durkin. It premiered at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, where Durkin received the Best Director award. It was also selected to screen in the Un Certain Regard section of the 2011 Cannes Film Festival.
In this chilling story, a young woman named Martha, (Elizabeth Olsen), escapes from a dangerous hippie cult run by a sinister leader (John Hawkes), and tries to go back to normal life. She's taken in by her older sister Lucy (Sarah Paulson) and her husband Ted (Hugh Dancy), but she remains greatly psychologically damaged and struggles to separate the events from the past from the present.
Two things immediately stand out here: The first, is Elizabeth Olsen's remarkably devastating performance as a shell shocked young woman unable to cope with her trauma. I'm sure it's been mentioned many times, but she is nothing like what you would expect from the younger sister of the Olsen twins. Though her role here doesn't exactly require or display a lot of range, it is entirely believable and always engrossing.
The second is director Sean Durkin's clear skill behind the camera. He possesses a great eye for composing every frame with great care and attention, and also offers consistently seamless transitions between Martha's current reality and her distressing memories of the past. This latter aspect does end up being slightly too overused by the end, and doesn't much help the coherence of his narrative, but the contrasts and juxtaposition do work to provide some understanding of Martha's unraveling state of mind.
Even with great acting and directing, the overall ambiguous story doesn't quite hit the mark. Maybe I was expecting too much after seeing this on so many top 10 lists, but I found it frustratingly spins in circles never quite going anywhere, and even the well timed reveals don't reveal much. Still it is a pair of impressive debuts from Durkin and especially Olsen who is destined to become a big star.
— Bonjour Tristesse